Carbon-dioxide hurts nitrogen assimilation by plants

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Field tests by University of California-Davis scientists have shown that high levels of carbon dioxide inhibit plants’ ability to assimilate nitrates into proteins. This research shows that high carbon dioxide levels could negatively impact the nutritional quality of food crops such as wheat, barley, rice and potatoes, the scientists report.

Although many within the environmental community are linking the findings to a warning that climate change could cause problems with crop nutrition, this research doesn’t appear to be completely climate change news. A current example of nutrition deficiency by plants grown in high carbon dioxide environments might be China where air pollution is a major problem.

As those in agriculture know, assimilation of nitrogen plays a key role in plants’ growth and productivity. What might not be recognized as much, according to the report, is that plants use nitrogen to produce the proteins that are vital for human nutrition.

What the researchers reported, and related to the potential increase in carbon dioxide in the air in future years, was not completely new because it originated from 1996 and 1997 field demonstrations in Arizona where carbon-dioxide-enriched air was released in wheat field plots. What was new was technology that allowed the research scientists to analyze dried leaf material from the fields that had been stored.

“The researchers found that three different measures of nitrate assimilation confirmed that the elevated level of atmospheric carbon dioxide had inhibited nitrate assimilation into protein in the field-grown wheat,” wrote Will Parker for in reporting on the research.

This decline in nitrate assimilation probably can be compensated for with additional nitrogen fertilizer although environmental activists condemn the thought of added nitrogen being applied to fields and the extra nitrogen will cost farmers.      

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Colorado  |  April, 08, 2014 at 11:36 AM

No surprise that increased CO2 impacts nitrogen assimilation... more carbon needs more N. No info reported on the amount of CO2 added, thus we don't know the effect if intensity on the NO3 assimilation. One point.... Since 1958 CO2 has increased 27% and Midwest corn grain yields (ie northern IA) have increased 150%. Based on photosynthesis, 27% of the the 150% increase in grain yields is due to CO2. Not surprisingly higher yields need more N. Don't tell this to the corn breeders they think they should get most of the credit. -R

Canada  |  April, 08, 2014 at 02:13 PM

The most cost effective means to help global food supplies in the face of climate change is to start becoming stewards of our ocean pastures. As so many engage in debate, renew fears about climate change and call for enormous amounts of money to do something, some of us have been working to deliver affordable practical solutions to help. In the summer of 2012 we became stewards of and restored a large ocean fish pasture in the NE Pacific. That ocean pasture has been severely depleted and in worsening condition for decades and the baby salmon going to sea have been mostly starving. Our work resulted in a vast ocean pasture converting millions of tons of death dealing CO2 into life itself. Last fall the results swam in and as the largest catch of salmon in all of Alaskan history. In SE Alaska where a large catch of 50 million salmon were predicted instead 219 million fish were caught. Double the largest catch in all of recorded history. Those fish are testimony to the fact that the ocean had returned to a historic state of health and abundance. All up and down the west coast reports are coming in of a spectacular abundance of salmon. IT JUST WORKS. Worried about "unintended consequences", here's one, the USDA has just now purchased tens of millions of servings of that bounty of Alaskan salmon to deliver to American children in its food aid programs. Just ask those kids if they think restoring ocean pastures is a good idea, I think the answer you will get is "yummy." Swim into my world at

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