The Innovative Genomics Institute runs a program aiming to “supercharge plants and soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere” with the help of CRISPR and funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Iniziative. I asked Andy Murdock, communications director at IGI, three questions to update the picture. Please see his answers below.
The IGI program started in June 2022. How is the work progressing? Any upcoming paper?
It’s still quite early in the project, however it builds on ongoing research, so there are related publications: Peggy Lemaux’s recent work on improving sorghum gene editing, David Savage’s preprint on Rubisco engineering, and Kris Niyogi’s work on improving photosynthesis. The team has been meeting regularly and work is underway, but it will take time for [new] papers to start coming out.
What are the differences between the work at IGI and the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative?
Our work and the Salk’s is quite complementary, in fact Pam Ronald on our team is also working with the Salk team on increasing below-ground carbon storage in root mass. Our project is broader in that we’re seeking to optimize photosynthesis to increase above-ground biomass, improving root architecture and root exudates into the soil, and then working with soil microbiomes to retain carbon in the soil long term.
What about the dialogue between climate scientists, plant geneticists and climate activists, do they talk to each other enough?
There has been some discussion of this topic at COP27, and we’re an Innovation Partner of AIM for Climate, and they’ve been heavily involved in the meeting. The question of whether there is sufficient dialogue is an interesting one — using genome editing to capture carbon is a new area that hasn’t gotten much attention until just recently, so there isn’t much history. But climate scientists are eager for any and all tools to help in the climate fight, so we have been heartened by how much interest we’ve gotten from the broader field in a relatively short time.