Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Supercharging Photosynthesis to Increase Carbon Storage, Aromatics Production – 2022 WARF Innovation Awards Nominee

See how a team of botanists is supercharging photosynthesis to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere.

Aromatic compounds hold promise for carbon storage and provide the basic ingredients for many products, including certain pharmaceuticals, commodity chemicals and materials. Currently, aromatic compounds are extracted from fossil fuels, a process that contributes to CO2 emissions and global warming.

Plants also produce aromatic compounds during photosynthesis, but not enough to replace fossil fuels as the main source of the chemicals. Plants control the production of aromatic compounds through the shikimate pathway. If scientists find a way to upregulate this pathway, it could increase the amount of carbon dioxide taken in by the plant and yield additional aromatic compounds for harvesting, resulting in a more sustainable way to source the chemicals.

UW-Madison researchers have identified a genetic mutation in a family of genes that reduces the regulation of the shikimate pathway. The team engineered a strain of Arabidopsis, a mustard plant, with mutations to a gene called DHS, which starts the production of aromatic amino acids. The mutant plants showed a 30 percent increase in carbon dioxide capture as well as hyper accumulation of aromatic amino acids. This mutation could be used to remove more carbon from the atmosphere, while simultaneously creating sustainable, plant-based production of aromatic compounds.

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