Humans add about nine gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere annually, and plants and trees absorb about five of those gigatons. The remaining carbon contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming, but scientists are working to create genetically engineered plants and trees that are optimized for capturing this excess carbon.
Carbon can spend decades housed in the leaves, branches, seeds and flowers of plants; however, carbon allocated to a plant’s roots can spend centuries there. Therefore, researchers hope to create bioenergy crops with large root systems that can capture and store carbon underground. Scientists are currently working to genetically modify perennials like switchgrass and Miscanthus because of their extensive root systems.