February 10, 2009
High CO2 Boosts Soy Respiration

As atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) rises so does metabolism of soy bean plants.

Some of the plants were exposed to atmospheric CO2 levels of 550 parts per million (ppm), the level predicted for the year 2050 if current trends continue. These were compared to plants grown at ambient CO2 levels (380 ppm).

The results were striking. At least 90 different genes coding the majority of enzymes in the cascade of chemical reactions that govern respiration were switched on (expressed) at higher levels in the soybeans grown at high CO2 levels. This explained how the plants were able to use the increased supply of sugars from stimulated photosynthesis under high CO2 conditions to produce energy, Leakey said. The rate of respiration increased 37 percent at the elevated CO2 levels.

The enhanced respiration is likely to support greater transport of sugars from leaves to other growing parts of the plant, including the seeds, Leakey said.

"The expression of over 600 genes was altered by elevated CO2 in total, which will help us to understand how the response is regulated and also hopefully produce crops that will perform better in the future," he said.

To fully exploit the agricultural benefits of high CO2 will likely require genetic engineering to tailor plant genes to operate optimally in a high CO2 environment.

But will the rains still come when the CO2 rises? Or will warming cause drying in soy crop areas? That is hard to know at this point.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 10 12:14 AM  Trends Agriculture

OneEyedMan said at February 10, 2009 6:25 AM:

Wouldn't higher average global temperature mean more rain and clouds from greater evaporation?

I understand it might fall in the wrong places, but I thought that was a pretty well understood relationship.
If I'd have heard wrong I would love to know more.

Randall Parker said at February 10, 2009 8:24 PM:


One model shows more rain falling over oceans and less over land at higher temperatures.

If you go searching you can find lots of reports of how warming might change rainfall patterns. I do not know how much stock to put in all these models.

Aron said at February 11, 2009 2:53 AM:

I'd put the most stock in the models that were around the last time CO2 hit 550 ppm. The rest.. notsomuch.

Dale said at February 11, 2009 1:47 PM:

You put that much stock in the models? You're far more trusting than I am. I really wish we could bring the earth up to a nice Miocene level of climate by simply pumping plant food into the atmosphere.

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