- Science! May 9
Scientists have wondered what more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will mean for food crops, and a new report answering that question has experts worried.
In a new study published in Nature, researchers shared findings from recent experiments on crops conducted around the world. NPR reports that scientists put carbon dioxide jets in open fields, releasing 500 parts per million of C02, the amount estimated to be in the air in 40 to 60 years (currently, carbon dioxide reaches roughly 400 parts per million). Researchers grew rice, wheat, and peas, and discovered that while crops grew faster and had yields increase by 10 percent, there was also a 5-10 percent reduction in nutrients like protein, zinc, and iron.
"If elevated CO2 or other climate change processes are working against us, we're going to have to work even harder to raise those levels," Michael Grusak, a researcher with the USDA's Children's Nutrition Research Center, told NPR. Scientists are not sure why this happens, but believe it could be that as plants produce more food, trace nutrients become diluted.
Zinc and iron deficiencies are already affecting two billion people around the world, with serious consequences: A lack of zinc prevents a child's immune system from working properly, and insufficient iron intake lowers the IQ of children, NPR says. As it is, many of the most popular crops in the world, particularly rice and corn, already don't have much iron or zinc; they are staples mainly because they are inexpensive. An international effort is now underway to create new varieties of crops through plant breeding, shooting for higher levels of these nutrients. --Catherine Garcia
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
- Even critics of the euro didn't see this coming
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- 8 ways you're probably overspending without even realizing it
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- 6 constitutional amendments that just missed the cut
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Why the West should accept ISIS as a sovereign nation
Subscribe to the Week