Can next-generation agriculture become a climate change solution — rather than a carbon generator?

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Credit: Sandy Huffaker
Credit: Sandy Huffaker

Carbon farming includes a variety of agricultural methods aimed at sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil. These farming practices can increase total carbon content, improve soil water-retention capacity and reduce fertilizer use in addition to improving plant growth. 

[Researcher Todd] Michael’s team is working to uncover how genomic differences enable plants to respond better to and exploit their environment. 

A key aspect of Michael’s research is increasing plants’ suberin production. Suberin, dubbed the biopolyester of the frontier of plants, provides some of the longest-lived molecules in the soils. In plants, suberins form gas and watertight barriers that prevent water and cellular products from leaching from roots into the soil. 

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By getting plants to make bigger root systems, improved plants would create more suberin to store more CO2. As the roots go deeper, there is less oxygen in the soil. This means there is less decomposition resulting in the CO2 being stored longer. By making a bigger root system containing more suberin and a larger fraction of the root system buried deeper underground, plants could move a larger amount of carbon into the soil and keep it there longer.

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