Capturing Carbon at Scale

Plant roots store carbon – the bigger the root structures and deeper they go, the more carbon they can capture from the atmosphere.  Taken to scale, plants can become a force in the race to remove carbon from the Earth.


Researchers at the Salk Institute, founded by the creator of the first effective polio vaccine, have discovered a gene that determines whether roots grow deep or shallow in the soil. The researchers are now working with various plant species grown globally, with the idea that if taken to scale these plants can absorb and store massive amounts of carbon.

The initiative aims to grow plants with robust and deep roots that store massive amounts of carbon for longer, and thus help reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere.

Specifically, researchers are working with auxin, a hormone that is known to influence almost all aspects of plant growth.   Until recently it was not known which factors of auxin affect root system architecture.  But the Salk team has identified a gene that controls the auxin pathway to regulate root system architecture without disrupting other plant functions. By working with auxin and the gene, researchers found that the orientation of the root system can shift roots to grow deeper into the soil.


While ambitious, Mountain Philanthropies hopes the research leads to a major breakthrough that can accelerate large scale carbon removal from the atmosphere.  The fact that this approach is also harnessing natural materials is especially compelling to our Partners, with science helping the Earth ‘heal itself’ from the damage created by the human species.