Researchers from the University of Western Australia have discovered a previously unknown process that dictates how much carbon dioxide plants release into the atmosphere and how much they keep.
According to researcher Harvey Millar, the findings of the study can help scientists breed or engineer crops that could help the environment through carbon sequestration.
During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to create oxygen and energy. Plants use carbon to build plant mass. However, they cannot fully utilize all the carbon as it can get lost during a process called transpriation. This is when water rises to stems and leaves where they would then evaporate into air.
The researchers found that the decision-making process of plants whether to store or release carbon is governed by a metabolic channel that directs a sugar product called pyruvate. They discovered that a transporter in the mitochondria directs pyruvate to respiration, which results in the release of carbon dioxide. But if the transporter is blocked, plants then use pyruvate made from other pathways for respiration. In turn, the pyruvate from the blocked transporter is kept by plant cells to build biomass.
Millar said that understanding this process could open opportunities for scientstists to influence the decision of plants whether to release or store carbon dioxide. He explained that this could be done by limiting the metabolic channel to respiration. Another way would be to make new channels to direct carbon inside mitochondria so it can be used to produce biomass instead.