Published on December 16th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance2
Chemically Enhancing Plants to Absorb More CO2
Ikuko Hara-Nishimura, chief researcher at Tokyo University, has discovered a means to increase plants’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide, which could “ease global warming and boost food production.” By soaking seeds in a protein solution called Stomagen, plant leaves contain more porous stomata and starch production in photosynthesis increases. Stomagen induced plants take in more CO2 and could produce more food or biomass for alternative fuels.
Researchers were able to increase the pores fourfold in leaves by using concentrated Stomagen. Discovery News reports:
They found that the number of pores multiplied relative to the concentration of the solution of the protein, which the researchers named Stomagen, achieving a maximum of four times the number of pores of an untreated plant.
An ideal increase would be two-to-three times, as too many pores impede the functions of other cells in the surface of the plant, Hara-Nishimura said.
Stomata are microscopic pores on the surface of plant leaves. They are “critical for plant function”. The University of Washington explains the role of stomata,
Stomatal function is important beyond the level of plant physiology and function, and its significance reaches from evolutionary history to atmospheric and environmental sciences. For instance, the acquisition of stomata is considered one of the key developmental innovations that allowed plants to conquer the terrestrial environment, an event that occurred around 400 million years ago (Edwards et al. 1998; Raven 2002). Importantly, stomata impact atmospheric environment, and in turn, atmospheric environment drives changes in stomatal patterning. It is generally accepted, both from the studies of fossil records and extant plants, that high carbon dioxide condition decreases numbers/density of stomata (Hetherington and Woodward 2003).
Stomagen is expensive to produce chemically, and researchers have suggested it may be more cost effective to genetically modify plants to produce more leaf pores. Although this research is exciting, should we really be playing with Mother Nature to solve the problems of climate change? Isn’t that how we got into this problem to begin with? Given that increased carbon dioxide causes a reduction in stomata, we may have no choice.
I worry about the unforeseen consequences of introducing Stomagen soaked seeds into our environment and/or producing genetically modified plants to combat global warming. We’ve already seen the consequences of genetically engineered plants in food production. What would be the consequences of introducing plants with artificially increased stomata into the natural world?