Photo by The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative to combat climate change using plants, led by Professor Joanne Chory, executive director of the Harnessing Plants Initiative, will receive funding of more than $35 million from over 10 individuals and organizations through The Audacious Project, a highly competitive program housed at TED, the nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. The collective commitments represent one of the largest gifts to a single project in the Institute’s history. “We are overjoyed with this strong show of support for the Harnessing Plants Initiative from donors through The Audacious Project,” says Chory, director of Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. “Plants have evolved over time to be an ideal vehicle for carbon capture and storage. If we can optimize plants’ natural ability to capture and store carbon we can develop plants that not only have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (negative emissions) but that can also help enrich soils and increase crop yields.” The key to the Harnessing Plants Initiative’s plan lies in a substance called suberin (one form of stem suberin is cork), a naturally occurring carbon-rich substance found in plant roots that resists decomposition. By understanding and improving several genetic pathways in plants, the Salk team will develop plants that grow bigger, more robust root systems containing an increased amount of suberin to absorb larger amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and bury the carbon-rich suberin deep in the soil.