Thoughts from the President During a Pandemic

September 25, 2021 - Danforth Center Research and Climate Change

Dear Danforth Center Community,

I’ve had more conversations and meetings around the topic of climate change than just about any other topic recently. Agriculture around the world is a major contributor to greenhouse gas accumulation, the cause of anthropogenic climate change. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the most significant greenhouse gasses, are emitted by various agricultural practices. Science and technology to address challenges at the nexus of agriculture and the environment have never been more important, and that’s where the Danforth Center comes in. Let’s highlight three major research initiatives with greenhouse gas reduction objectives at the Danforth Center.

New Roots for Restoration Biology Integration Institute (NRR-BII). This $12.5M, multi-institutional initiative led by Allison Miller seeks to understand plant traits, plant communities, and the soil ecosphere to restore natural and agricultural ecosystems. A major driver of NRR-BII is development of effective, scalable ways to better capture carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas, and sequester it in soil. Consider that a tall grass prairie can sequester 0.3 to 1.7 metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year. It’s time to apply what we can learn from natural systems to move towards climate resiliency!

Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI). Led by plant biologists at the Salk Institute, this initiative now includes a $6.2M program led by Nadia Shakoor at the Danforth Center to develop sorghum with more carbon sequestration potential. Sorghum has high appeal for capturing and storing atmospheric carbon underground because it’s also relatively drought tolerant. Nadia’s team is investigating the genetics and phenotypes of sorghum needed for improved varieties with potential to sequester more carbon.

Subterranean Influences on Nitrogen Cycling (SINC) Center. The SINC Center, currently composed of teams from four Danforth Center labs and Data Science, is about using microbes and plant genetics to lower the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. A major motivation is the need to lower emissions of nitrous oxide gas, which has roughly 275-times more heat-trapping potential than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Seventy-five percent of total nitrous oxide emissions is due to nitrogen fertilizer and other agricultural practices. With initial seed funding from a $1M gift, the SINC Center seeks to develop technology that lowers the need for synthetic fertilizer by 12%.

So, the next time you’re asked about research we’re doing at the Danforth Center to address climate change, you now have three good examples to share! Have a safe weekend.

Jim Carrington, President and Chief Executive Officer

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