July 2020

by Ari Novy, PhD, President & CEO

Earlier this year, San Diego Botanic Garden and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies combined forces to offer the first of its kind symposium, “Plant Carbon Drawdown.”

This 2-day symposium presented the cutting edge of plant-based innovations designed to help mitigate the coming effects of climate change. Scientific leaders from all over the world came to update each other on how we can use the power of photosynthesis to save the world from a rapidly changing climate global warming.

Some of this information was rather technical so we also combined forces with the National Academy of Sciences’ Science and Entertainment Exchange to translate the science for the public. With the help of highly accomplished Hollywood writers, directors and producers, we found ways to educate the public about a better future utilizing the wonders of plants to stave off a torrid future. It was truly enlightening, and rather entertaining.

The symposium was one of many projects the Garden is undertaking with the Salk Institute to probe the mysteries of our botanical world.

Last year, the Garden started working with Salk to examine the genomes of interesting plants in our collections. Currently, we are working on reading the entire cork oak (Quercus suber) genome for the first time. This work is exciting because Salk researchers are working to make crop plants manufacture more cork in their roots.

All plants make cork, which is a carbon rich molecule that is highly recalcitrant to degradation. The idea is that if crop plants, like corn and soybeans, can be designed to pump cork into the soil on a wide scale, it would be a safe and economical way to sequester massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere in the ground. Cork oaks naturally make huge amounts of cork, so researchers hope to learn this mighty tree’s secrets and apply them widely to improve the environment.

We’re excited to report that we have a draft sequence completed and look forward to finalizing this work in the next year!

The Garden is also working together with Salk to sequence species of the genus Fouquieria, specifically the Boojums. These plants have fascinating adaptations to desert life, including unique regulation of photosynthesis. We hope that further investigation of the boojum genome will yield valuable information about how photosynthesis is optimized to the driest climates.

We are SO excited to continue our collaborations with Salk. By combining the world-class collections at SDBG with the Salk Institute’s cutting-edge knowledge of molecular biology, we aim to learn the inner workings of plants as never done before.

These are exciting times and San Diego Botanic Garden is thrilled to be on the frontier of botanical research!

Want to learn more? Watch the entire Plant Carbon Drawdown Symposium here.