These images show increasing levels of phytolith enlargement in the leaves of poplar, a key biofuel crop, obtained with ORNL’s specialized microscopy-spectroscopy. Credit: Elizabeth Herndon/ORNL, US Department of Energy

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have moved closer to unlocking the secrets to better soil carbon sequestration by studying tiny, sand-like silica deposits called phytoliths in plants.

Silicon makes plants hardy and helps protect them from stressors like drought. Phytoliths, which form as a result of silicon accumulation, also trap carbon in a structure that persists long after plant death, enhancing soil carbon storage.

“We want to know if we can change the system enough to increase the amount of carbon that can be taken up by plants,” said ORNL’s Natalie Griffiths.

As part of their analysis of phytoliths c poplarsscientists have not only identified a gene that stores silicon, but also linked it to the stimulation of cellulose biosynthesis, a key process in making biofuels, said ORNL’s Madhavi Martin.

“This is a great example of laboratory research linking plant genetics to ecosystem impacts,” Griffiths said, particularly as a natural decarbonization strategy.

New insights into the global silicon cycle

Citation: Revealing better soil carbon sequestration by studying silicon sequestration in plants (2022, July 7) Retrieved July 7, 2022, from deposits.html

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