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’s atmosphere.

Researchers at the Salk Institute, founded by the creator of the first effective polio vaccine, are working to identify the genes that make plants grow more roots, deeper roots and roots with more suberin – a naturally occuring material in plants that does not decompose over time. Their goal is to develop a new generation of carbon-storing plants that will reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere and bury carbon deep in the soil of croplands. It’s anticipated that these plants will improve soil quality as well, thereby providing economic benefits in the form of increased plant yield and improved food security.

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.

Thus far the team of  researchers has identified several promising gene candidates for deeper rooting and increased root mass, and have begun to transfer these genes into test crops such as canola and rice. Thanks to an additional $45 million raised since 2019 – including the recent announcement of $30 million from the Bezos Earth Fund – the team at Salk is able accelerate its research with more scientific “shots on goal.” 

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.