Solving the Biggest Problem We Face Using Gene Editing
If asked, an overwhelming majority of educated opinionists would agree that the largest problem that we face as a society is the issue of climate change. Like I am sure most of you understand, the rate at which we are environmentally declining is far too dramatic for any mediocre solution to solve.
Similar to other times in our history, truly intuitive solutions are necessary to solve truly hard problems. I think that the most efficient means of solving an issue at the scale of the climate is by harnessing the natural resources and functions at our disposal. The Earth’s natural phenomena have been the structural backbone of the planet’s success thus far, but the times are changing. No longer can we rely solely upon the natural allocation of Earth’s resources for our environmental benefit.
Before we dive into where I believe a true solution lies, we must first understand the basis for the problem at hand.
Carbon Dioxide Trapping (CO2)
Carbon dioxide(CO2) is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that contributes to the progression of climate change through the absorbance of infrared light. Its amplified presence in the atmosphere increases temperature and indirectly contributes to the deterioration of the ozone layer.
As is often stated by the climate activist Greta Thunberg, our current carbon emissions budget currently stands at roughly 360 gigatons of carbon, and with the average carbon emission standing at about 42 gigatons on an annual basis, the future of the planet does not look terribly bright through a quantitative lens.
If, however, there was a way we could reduce these carbon emissions using the natural resources at our disposal, our future would be very clearly more hopeful. No solution fitting the above description exists right?…WRONG.
I’m sure we all are aware of what photosynthesis(the process by which plants follow to transform carbon dioxide and energy from the Sun into sugar and oxygen for their own consumption) is.
Not terribly complex, but its possible benefits are in my mind, far overlooked.
In bold, in the first paragraph of this section, is where things truly do start to get interesting. Yes, plants take in carbon dioxide for energy conversion. Yes, this conversion reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, and thus makes an impact on our annual emissions.
You're probably asking yourself, “man, it makes sense, but I still can’t figure out why exactly these plants are not making a larger positive dent in the climate crisis.” You would be rational for thinking this. After all, there has been tremendous growth in tree planting initiatives in the recent decade, why haven’t we seen any true results?
I’ll attempt to break down the math in my next article, but the long and short of it is that plants and trees, in particular, have processes of photosynthesis that are far too inefficient to make any impact on the climate. After recognizing this, I realized that this process of photosynthesis does not necessarily need to remain in its traditional chains of inefficiency. In early species of plants, the process by which plants photosynthesize was completely efficient. As the atmosphere’s makeup has become more complex, including an abundance of gases like oxygen, this efficiency level decreased.
University of Leeds researchers have recently made bounds of progress in this domain. Using tobacco plants as an original test, the researchers took the intuitive approach of altering not the physical environment in which the plant grew, but rather, to make the process of photosynthesis more efficient, they edited the genes of the plant so as to bypass redundant steps of photosynthesis. The result of this testing was a 25% increased biomass and a 40% increase in plant reproduction relative to generations prior.
Both increased statistics are results of a greater amount of photosynthesis.
Given that many plants are shown to have similar genetic makeup, this finding is not only significant to crop growers but also now can be applied to the reduction of carbon dioxide via trees. Using practically the same method as the one used in the tobacco plant experiment, a similar result can be applied to other, more common plants like trees.
I believe that with the ability to edit what fundamentally makes us human, we are able to reimagine what was once the permanent standard. Climate is one of these issues that I am confident will be solved through the progressive development of gene-editing technology.
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