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Scientists Engineer Plants that Grow Quicker

Good news for those despairing at our rapidly warming planet: we can supercharge plants to help fight the effects of climate change. Scientists have found two ways to make plants better at turning carbon dioxide into energy — and these techniques could help plants help uscreate better biofuels and produce more food to save the world.

Two studies published today in Science show different ways that beefing up the process by which plants create energy — called carbon fixation, or photosynthesis — could lead to a better future. In one, scientists decided that the entire process of carbon fixation was too slow and created a new, and faster, cycle. In the other, researchers engineered plants so they could absorb more sunlight. These enhanced plants grew up to 20 percent bigger, which is a big deal for food supply.

Plants are some of our best allies in the climate change fight. Global warming happens because of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and we add CO2 through activities like burning fossil fuels for energy. Because plants absorb carbon dioxide, they suck up some of the extra CO2 in the air and can even buy us extra time on global warming. But photosynthesis isn’t as efficient as it could be, so scientists are teaching plants how to do their jobs better to make our own lives easier. There may be other benefits besides locking down carbon: better plant growth means more food for a booming human population.

Adrianne Mathiowetz

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