How Biotechnology is Being Used to Combat Climate Change

Biotechnology is playing a crucial role in combating climate change by offering innovative solutions that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming. From engineered microorganisms that scrub the atmosphere to advanced biotechnology tools, the sector is leveraging its capabilities to create a more sustainable and resilient world.

Leveraging Biotechnology to Mitigate Climate Change: A Five-Pronged Approach

  1. Bioenergy and Biomaterials: Biologists are developing greener ways to fuel the planet’s energy requirements, replacing petrochemicals and emission-heavy materials like concrete with next-generation biofuels and bio-based materials. Examples include construction materials grown from fungi, oil-like biofuels produced from algae, and new bioalternatives to plastics and oil-derived chemicals.

  2. Agriculture and Food: Global food production accounts for one-quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and biologists are helping farmers grow more productive, climate-friendly crops and livestock. New strains of rice could drastically reduce the amount of methane produced by the world’s rice paddies; cellular agriculture aims to replace farmed animals with meat and other animal products grown using tissue culturing technology and bio-reactors; and carbon farming helps farms absorb more greenhouse gas than they produce.

  3. Ecological Research: For decades, ecologists have been monitoring the impact of a changing climate on the natural world to help understand and predict future effects on wildlife, ecosystems, and human health. This research underpins efforts to protect the ecosystems that support us and informs the best ways to manage natural carbon sinks.

  4. Molecular Biology and Gene Editing: Advances in our understanding of the chemistry of life, and the application of gene-editing technology such as CRISPR, are allowing scientists to grow organisms that are adapted to a changing climate or with characteristics that could help fight climate change. Biologists are exploring how to engineer trees with “turbo-charged” photosynthesis and plants with extra-large and fast-growing roots to help plants lock away more carbon, faster.

  5. Synthetic Biology: The relatively new science of synthetic biology creates new biological systems from bespoke arrangements of genes and other components found in cells from across the kingdoms of life. These new systems could help fight climate change in many ways, from microbes that can remove pollution from the environment or produce animal and plant products to redesigned plants with artificial cell organelles to help them suck up carbon.

Biotech Crops and Climate Change

Biotech crops have been contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions for the last 16 years. They allow farmers to use less and environmentally friendly energy and fertilizer, and practice soil carbon sequestration. Herbicide-tolerant biotech crops facilitate zero or no-till farming, which significantly reduces the loss of soil carbon and CO2 emissions, reduces fuel use, and significantly reduces soil erosion. Insect-resistant biotech crops require fewer pesticide sprays, which results in savings of tractor/fossil fuel and thus less CO2 emissions.

Future-Proofing Agriculture

Improved crops resilient to extreme environments caused by climate change are expected in a few years to a decade. Biotech research to mitigate global warming should also be initiated to sustain the utilization of new products. For example, the induction of nodular structures on the roots of non-leguminous cereal crops to fix nitrogen will reduce farmers’ reliance on inorganic fertilizers. Another example is the utilization of excess CO2 in the air by staple crop rice by converting its CO2 harnessing capability from C3 to C4 pathway, similar to maize, which can efficiently assimilate and convert CO2 to carbon products during photosynthesis.

Biotechnology Tools to Combat Climate Crisis

Eight promising biotechnology tools were selected by the authors as potentially impactful game changers: the Wood–Ljungdahl pathway, the use of mycorrhizal fungi, drought-resistant crops, and more. These tools can help reduce net emissions and create a circular economy. Biotechnology is already well established amongst multiple bioeconomy sectors, including the agricultural, energy, materials, and chemical sectors.

Conclusion

Biotechnology is a vital component in the fight against climate change. From engineered microorganisms to advanced biotechnology tools, the sector is offering innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming. As the world continues to face the challenges of climate change, biotechnology will play a crucial role in creating a more sustainable and resilient world.

“Biotechnology is already well established amongst multiple bioeconomy sectors, including the agricultural, energy, materials, and chemical sectors. It is noteworthy that biotechnology is already a major player in environmental applications, as biological wastewater treatment is the state of the art, with an estimated 18,000 wastewater treatment plants in operation in Europe and more than 14,000 in the U.S.”

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