A plant could eventually help cut atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major player in global warming, by as much as 50 percent.
Dr. Joanne Chory was recently awarded the $3 million BreakThrough Prize in life sciences for her research on how we could combat climate change through crops.
Chory has spent more than three decades studying plant biology and used that knowledge to engineer a type of crop that can suck carbon dioxide out of the air while also feeding the planet.
The prize will help make a dent in her team’s plan to turn this plant idea into a worldwide reality, which she estimates will take around 10 years and cost roughly $50 million.
The idea is based on a waxy substance called suberin, which can store carbon in soil — without biodegrading — for hundreds, even thousands of years.
“It basically is cork,” Chory told Business Insider. “A lot of coastal grasses make a lot of suberin. I think they’re keeping the water out of the plant.”
In order for the plant to help reverse the effects of global warming, it would need to account for five percent of the world’s cropland. A swath of land abut the size of Egypt could capture 50 percent of current levels of CO2 emissions.
Chory thinks the flood- and drought-resistant crop will probably taste like a chickpea.
“Humanity is at a crossroads,” she said in statement announcing the priz. “In the coming decades, as the human population increases from 7 billion to 10 billion or more, we are going to put incredible pressure on the planet’s ability to support us. Global warming is going to make providing for this population very difficult, if not impossible and we desperately need ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Plants can be a critical part of the solution.”