How is AI being used to engineer plants for climate change mitigation?

How is AI being used to engineer plants for climate change mitigation?

Artificial Intelligence Aids Scientists in Engineering Plants to Mitigate Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the critical need for carbon removal from the atmosphere to combat climate change and limit global temperature rise. In response, scientists at the Salk Institute are harnessing plants’ inherent ability to absorb carbon dioxide by enhancing their root systems to maximize carbon storage for extended periods.

AI-Powered Plant Design

A novel collaboration at Salk employs deep learning software, SLEAP, to analyze plant characteristics, accelerating the development of climate-saving plants. SLEAP, initially developed for tracking animal movements, has been adapted by Salk Fellow Talmo Pereira and Professor Wolfgang Busch for plant root analysis. Their latest research findings, published in Plant Phenomics, demonstrate a new protocol using SLEAP to accurately measure previously elusive root traits.

SLEAP-Roots: A Powerful Tooklit

The sleap-roots toolkit, a modified version of SLEAP specifically designed for plant studies, enables researchers to efficiently and accurately assess root characteristics essential for carbon storage. This open-source software analyzes root depth, mass, and growth angle, providing valuable insights into root system development. Elizabeth Berrigan, the study’s first author, highlights the efficiency gains: “With sleap-roots, we annotate root systems 1.5 times faster, train our AI models 10 times faster, and achieve predictions on new data ten times faster than before, all while maintaining or improving accuracy.”

Enhancing Carbon Capture in Crops

The team has successfully applied this approach to various plants, including critical crops such as soybeans, rice, and canola, as well as the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. SLEAP has proven more effective than traditional methods, delivering faster and more precise data, facilitating the correlation between root traits and specific genetic markers.

NASA Collab and Future Prospects

NASA scientists have expressed interest in utilizing this technology to enhance carbon sequestration on Earth and potentially study plants in space. The ongoing collaboration at Salk is set to expand, with plans to integrate SLEAP into 3D data analysis, further extending its capabilities. Professor Wolfgang Busch, the Hess Chair in Plant Science at Salk, enthuses about the project’s future potential: “SLEAP has proven invaluable in our lab. It simplifies our research and enables us to advance at a pace we previously couldn’t have imagined.”


This initiative underscores Salk’s commitment to leveraging plants’ natural ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, effectively contributing to climate change mitigation. AI is playing a transformative role in optimizing plant root systems, paving the way for the development of climate-resilient plants that can help mitigate the effects of climate change.

also read:What factors are contributing to the rapid ice loss in Antarctica and how are they impacting the region?

By Divya

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