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Last Updated: Monday, 24 February, 2003, 11:52 GMT
Rainforest tree eats up pollution
By Julian Siddle
BBC Science

A botanist in Brazil has found a plant that he claims may hold the key to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.

The Brazilian rainforest
The plant was found in the Brazilian rainforest
Jatoba, or hymenaea, a rainforest tree, has been found to grow much faster in atmospheres with high levels of carbon dioxide.

This could be important in fighting climate change, as carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that is making the planet warmer.

Marcos Buckeridge, a scientist at Sao Paolo's botanical gardens, told the BBC World Service's Discovery programme of his findings.

We have to have the technology to provide for an emergency
Botanist Marcos Buckeridge
"We took seeds and grew them in normal air, which has 360 carbon dioxide parts per million, and in parallel grew plantlets at 720 parts per million, which is the concentration expected for 2075," Professor Buckeridge explained.

"The first thing we saw was that photosynthesis doubled in the plants that were growing at the higher CO2 concentration."

Carbon sink

The research has revealed a mechanism which could hold the key to the effectiveness of carbon sinks.

The Jatoba tree
Jatoba tree thrives in high CO2 levels
These are based on the idea of planting more trees to absorb the huge amounts of atmospheric "pollution", especially carbon dioxide.

It is a theory which appeals to the governments of many industrialised nations, as it seems far simpler than the political and economic changes needed to make industry reduce emissions.

Simply planting large numbers of Jatoba trees may not be the answer, as they can take a very long time to reach maturity and specimens 500 years old are not unknown.

But the finding is significant because Professor Buckeridge believes the mechanism that allows the Jatoba to absorb more carbon dioxide could be isolated and applied to other plants.

This in turn could help lower the build-up of CO2.

But that idea is controversial, because it would in effect create a large number of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"It will take years for us to understand how these things work," Professor Buckeridge conceded.

"I'm not saying we should have GMOs everywhere. But we have to be prepared.

"We should know what genes we have to change in order to increase carbon sequestration.

"We have to have the technology to provide for an emergency. We must be thinking of this research now; we do not know how high CO2 levels will be in 75 years' time."



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