London, Aug 4: Rearing crops whose roots burrow a metre deeper into the ground than those of existing plants could slash carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.
Douglas Kell, professor of botany at the University of Manchester, argues that such deep roots could slough off more carbon from the air, make crops more drought resistant, while reducing carbon levels.
Most cultivated agricultural crops have root depths that do not extend much beyond one metre. Doubling this, Kell argues, would dramatically reduce CO2 levels.
In principle, any crops could be treated in this way, giving more productive yields while also being better for the environment, the journal Annals of Botany reports.
Kell’s new analysis is the first to reveal the benefits to the environment that might come from breeding novel crops with root traits designed to enhance carbon sequestration, according to a university statement.
Kell has also devised a carbon calculator that can show the potential benefits of crops that burrow more deeply in the ground.
Breeding crop plants with deeper and bushy root ecosystems could simultaneously improve both the soil structure and its steady-state carbon, water and nutrient retention, as well as sustainable plant yields.
It is known that massive CO2 reductions in the atmosphere over geological time have happened because of the rise of deep-rooted trees and flowering plants.