How Living Carbon's Modified Trees Can Store More Carbon
How Living Carbon's Modified Trees Can Store More Carbon
8:01

How Living Carbon's Modified Trees Can Store More Carbon

Climate
Speaker 1: I am standing in what you might consider a greenhouse, but there's something really special about the dozens of Poplar trees. I'm surrounded by. These are what you might consider to be super trees and they might one day help prevent climate change. The carbon levels in our atmosphere have us on a one way course toward a climate catastrophe, scientists agree. There's no single solution, but a bay area based startup thinks [00:00:30] it can put a significant dent in all that carbon by building better trees, welcome to the headquarters of living carbon. Speaker 2: So our mission at living carbon is to rebalance the planet's ecosystem, using the inherent power of plants, Speaker 1: That's founder and CEO Mattie hall. And there's more than meets the eye to her. Company's genetically [00:01:00] modified popular trees. They not only grow faster, but can store up to 53% more carbon. Not only that they can store that carbon for longer periods of time, which is crucial in the race to offset global emissions. Speaker 3: Half of all of the CO2 that's drawn out of the atmosphere is returned in the same year. And the process by which that is returned is decomposition of biomass from plants. Speaker 1: You can actually see the results of living carbon's genetic modifications. In these photos, [00:01:30] the blue arrows are pointing at living carbon trees, the red arrows at control trees of the same age, but these enhanced trees are not just sitting in a lab. They're already in the ground on more than 3000 acres of land around the us. Speaker 2: If we were to double the acreage that we have today, up until 20 20 30, we would be able to actually plant enough trees to remove 1.6, 6% of global emissions in 2020 months. That is very [00:02:00] significant. That's the emissions of millions of people. Speaker 1: The 2015 Paris climate agreement calls for us to keep the earth from warming more than two degrees Celsius past pre-industrial levels, but a new UN climate report out this year says just reducing our carbon emissions. Won't be enough to get us there. Scientists found humans will only be able to achieve that with the addition of carbon capture technologies. [00:02:30] That's why you might have heard so much lately about carbon capture plants, facilities lined with machines, designed to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. In fact, we've done a whole video on it. It doesn't take a scientist to understand how trees can help fight climate change. We inhale the oxygen they release and they absorb the carbon that we exhale. But why would living carbon think that they could improve on those trees provided by nature. As it turns out photosynthesis, the process that plants use to turn light, [00:03:00] CO2 and water into energy. Speaker 1: Isn't always very efficient. It all starts with the enzyme. Plants used to convert carbon into sugar called rub Bisco around 25% of the time during photosynthesis rub Bisco incorrectly attaches itself to oxygen instead of carbon, that creates a toxic compound that would otherwise disrupt photosynthesis. So the plant has to remove the toxins using another process known as photo respiration and that cost energy that would otherwise help the plant grow. [00:03:30] This is where living carbon comes in. Their trees are modified to reduce the rate of photo respiration. That's required, meaning less energy lost and less toxic byproducts. Speaker 3: By doing that, the tree can put more energy towards growth and it can assimilate more carbon from the atmosphere, Speaker 1: Chief technology, officer Patrick Miller, co-founded living carbon with haul. He showed us how their modified tree cells go from the Petri dish to the ground. Speaker 3: These are hybrid popular [00:04:00] cuttings that are being grown in tissue culture to get them ready for transformation. So what we do is grow the cuttings to the point where we have a number of leaves and other tissue. And then, um, we take off leaves and then we put them in these dishes and, um, we get them to differentiate back into callous tissue, which is like stem cells for plants. Speaker 1: That's when they introduce [00:04:30] what they call their photosynthesis enhancement construct, essentially their recipe for modifying the plant cells. Speaker 3: We, uh, have the construct on tiny little gold particles and we use helium to fire those gold particles into the plant cells. And you can actually see on this dish, how they're little plantlets differentiating off of the callous tissue. When those plantlets get bigger, we take them off, um, and grow them in gel medium until they're [00:05:00] big enough to move to soil. Speaker 1: Eventually the trees are moved to greenhouses like this one in San Francisco for evaluation before they're ready to be put in the ground. There are already 600 living carbon popular trees in Oregon planted as part of a partnership with Oregon state university. Those are being evaluated over four years to see how the trees handle real world conditions. And they're working with private landowners across the Southeastern United States to plant modified pine trees. [00:05:30] And that brings us to how living carbon plans to make money. It all comes down to carbon credits that the company can earn with its trees. Living carbon can sell those credits to companies and polluters that want or need to offset their carbon emissions. Speaker 2: Our model is give away the trees at cost or for free, and then monetize based off of the additional carbon that's captured because it's reoccurring revenue, um, which is very Speaker 1: Good. And Hal says, it's not just good for living carbon. It's good for landowners as well. Speaker 2: We'll cover the [00:06:00] site prep costs. We will help restore this land that you otherwise might not have had economic incentive to want to restore. Um, and we'll also give you a revenue share of the carbon credits that are generated. Speaker 1: But what about the ethics? There's no shortage of advocacy groups that are opposed to putting any sort of genetically modified plants into our ecosystems. Those concerns generally involve giving plants abilities. They wouldn't otherwise have like resistance to certain herbicides. Speaker 3: What we are doing is different in the sense [00:06:30] that we are giving these trees an ability that other plants already have using, uh, constructs that are composed of genes from other plants. These Poplar trees that we are working with do not make pollen. Uh, all of the reproduction is vegetative. We're not creating a situation where there's gonna be pollen blowing from these trees onto other trees that then spreads it. Speaker 1: Living carbon is working on other genetic modifications that could help their trees retain carbon even longer. One [00:07:00] way is by modifying the wood. So it's less susceptible to decay from fungus it's worth noting. The federal government will need to approve for the company to sell its trees. And the feds have never signed off on selling a tree that's engineered for fast growth, but for living carbon, even if it takes time, they think it's worth the weight. Speaker 3: It's like watching the beginning of some kind of evolutionary event that has the potential to really help the situation that we're in to really improve the rate of drawdown and retention of CO2 Speaker 2: Photosynthesis [00:07:30] has evolved for over 2 billion years. And so humans would be very silly to not utilize that existing mechanism to capture carbon, um, and try to just only event something of our own design. Speaker 1: So what do you think of living carbon and their genetically modified trees? Do you think they could actually put a dent in climate change? Let us know in the comments below.

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