Plants appear to control the amount of CO2 they release into the atmosphere, scientists have discovered.
Photo: ISAAA

Plants can make “secret decisions” on what to do with stored carbon

Scientists from the University of Western Australia discovered how plants control the amount of carbon from photosynthesis that they store to build biomass using a metabolic channel. This is a relatively rare plant ability which was found to break the normal rules of biochemistry and has the potential to help mitigate climate change.

Scientists have dubbed the previously unknown process as “secret decisions” that plants make when releasing carbon into the atmosphere. While investigating the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, researchers found that it was controlling how much carbon from photosynthesis it kept to build biomass using a metabolic channel during respiration.

Specifically, this happens right before plants burn the compound pyruvate, as the scientists have found evidence that plants can track the source of this  substance and choose whether to burn it, releasing carbon dioxide, or store it to build phospholipids for plant oils amino acids, and other biomass products. According to the researchers, this choice is the final step in the plant’s process of deciding to either emit carbon into the atmosphere or make use of it.

The scientists were astounded by the discovery as it does not follow the typical biochemistry rules where every reaction is in competition with others and the processes do not control where the product goes. It gives light to understanding how plants store carbon dioxide during the metabolic process and paves the way for future research to develop plants that can store carbon longer, thereby increasing the chances of mitigating climate change challenges.

The study was published by Nature Plants in June 2022.



A. Harvey Millar et al.: Metabolic evidence for distinct pyruvate pools inside plant mitochondria; nature plants, June 2022. Website Nature Plants

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