The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Media Roundup

Bad Greenhouse Food

Plants, as readers will remember from High School Biology, perform photosynthesis to incorporate CO2 into carbohydrates in a solar-powered process. CO2 is also the main driver in what is known as the greenhouse effect: increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations derived from the burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil and their related products) trap the sun’s rays as they bounce off our planet. The net effect of this trapped solar power is an increase in global temperatures over time.


Audrey II: not bad, just needs her vitamins. (Image by Madalena Parreira).

It is not necessary to recited here the litany of catastrophic phenomena that the Greenhouse Effect may provoke. Irakli Loladze of the Catholic University of Daegu (Korea) decided to look into a possible positive consequence of the Greenhouse Effect: namely that it may mimic actual agricultural greenhouses and increase food production. On the face of it, the logic is unimpeachable: the increase in C02 availability and, for some latitudes, heat should enhance photosynthesis. The study results were quite sobering: while starch (carbohydrate) ) levels did increase with elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the resulting plants were very poor in micronutrients, suggesting that another result of the Greenhouse Effect may de decreased nutritional value of plant derived foods. The original research results are published in the open-access journal eLife, where Hans-Joachim Weigel provides a summary for non-specialists.

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