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Can We Combat Rising CO₂ Levels With Microbes?

In partnership with the Two Frontiers Project (2FP), we’re supporting a range of research initiatives in 2024 focused on the discovery and application of microbes to capture CO₂ and transform it into sustainable solutions and resources.

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CO2 is warming the planet at record levels. In less than 200 years, atmospheric CO2 has increased 50% due to human activities1, and CO2 levels today are higher than at any point in human history.2 These rising levels are a major concern for all life on Earth—destroying critical ecosystems and leading to an unprecedented increase in ocean acidification. So much so that the United Nations’ IPCC emphasized the necessity of CO₂ removal in order to make a meaningful impact on climate change.3 

The need for innovative solutions has never been more urgent. That’s where microbes come in. 

At Seed, we firmly believe that microbes hold the key to addressing some of our planet’s most pressing issues. Our environmental R+D arm, SeedLabs, was founded to harness this potential. Since its inception, we’ve asked big questions to uncover what Earth’s tiniest organisms can do: Can they save honey bees? Can they restore coral reefs? Can they enrich soil? Can they upcycle plastic? In space

Now, we pose our next big question: Can we leverage microbes to capture CO₂ and transform it into something useful? 

‘Extreme’ Microbes for Next-Generation Carbon Technology 

Microbes have been evolving for at least 3.7 billion years.4 They are incredibly resilient organisms, and have adapted to survive in our planet’s most extreme environments, from Yellowstone’s scalding hot springs to the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean. In order to withstand these harsh conditions, some have developed unique survival strategies, including the ability to consume CO₂.

Our hypothesis: If we leverage microbes from CO₂-rich environments, we can harness their unique capabilities to enhance carbon sequestration, restore vital ecosystems, and transform the CO2 into sustainable products.

Meet The Two Frontiers Project

The Two Frontiers Project (2FP) is a global team of scientists and industry leaders dedicated to exploring life’s capabilities in extreme environments, with an emphasis on humanity’s greatest frontiers: the oceans and space. The team searches for novel solutions to climate change and pollutant bioremediation, leading expeditions to all corners of the world, sampling, sequencing, and culturing microbes, and storing all of their data and collected biological samples in a “living database” for use by the academic research community.

Last year, on a landmark expedition supported by SeedLabs, 2FP discovered a novel volcanic microbe incredibly efficient at consuming CO2, unlocking new potential in carbon capture technology. 

This year, we will expand on that work. In partnership with 2FP, we’re collaborating on a range of diverse research initiatives to mine extreme environments for beneficial microorganisms and explore broader applications of these microbes to mitigate climate change impacts. These efforts will be led by Dr. Braden Tierney, Co-Founder and Executive Director of 2FP.

The urgency of our climate crisis means we don’t have the luxury of time. Our partnership with SeedLabs enables us to accelerate our efforts, tapping into the extraordinary potential of microbial evolution for a new frontier in climate tech.

 Dr. Braden Tierney 

A Closer Look at Our Upcoming Initiatives 

This year, we begin with:

  • Expeditions: 2FP will continue journeying the field to document and uncover microbes in natural extreme environments. Our 2024 programs will focus on isolating microbial communities with high carbon sequestration capacities and studying coral-associated microbiomes that foster resilience to high-CO2 conditions. The first expedition will take the team to two volcanic islands off the coast of Japan to cultivate and sample microbes from diverse environments such as oceanic CO2 seeps, volcanic fields, and coral ecosystems.
  • Cultivation: Screening Microbes for Production of Sustainable Products. Under the guidance of Dr. James Henriksen, 2FP’s Co-founder and Director of R&D and scientist at Colorado State University, this laboratory project will identify, isolate, and characterize novel microbes with the capacity to create valuable and useful natural products (think: sugars, oil-based compounds like omega-3 fatty acids, and even biofuels) from CO2, exploring the immense potential of the “carbon-to-value chain”.
  • Application: CO2 to Product Scale-Up. A continuation of the cultivation work, this laboratory project will establish the infrastructure and processes to scale up microbial production of a range of valuable and useful products.

A Commitment to Sustainable Innovation

We have a lot to learn from the invisible, resilient microbes that call extreme environments home. That’s why we continue to investigate our microbial partners, and why we will traverse the planet (and beyond) to learn more about them. As our co-founder and co-CEO Raja Dhir puts it, “By harnessing the unique capabilities of microbes, we can address critical aspects of the climate crisis, from enhancing ecosystem resilience to innovating carbon utilization strategies.”

We’re so excited to partner with 2FP to take us one step closer to a more sustainable future.

Citations

  1. NASA. (n.d.). Carbon dioxide concentration | NASA Global Climate Change. Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/?intent=121#:~:text=Carbon%20dioxide%20in%20the%20atmosphere,in%20less%20than%20200%20years.
  2. Climate change: atmospheric carbon dioxide. (2024, April 9). NOAA Climate.gov. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide#:~:text=Since%20the%20middle%20of%20the,the%20Global%20Carbon%20Budget%202023.
  3. Calvin, K., Dasgupta, D., Krinner, G., Mukherji, A., Thorne, P., Trisos, C. H., Romero, J., Aldunce, P., Barrett, K., Blanco, G., Cheung, W. W. L., Connors, S., Denton, F., Diongue-Niang, A., Dodman, D., Garschagen, M., Geden, O., Hayward, B., Jones, C. D., . . . Ha, M. (2023). IPCC, 2023: Climate change 2023: Synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the sixth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change [Core Writing Team, H. Lee and J. Romero (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland. https://doi.org/10.59327/ipcc/ar6-9789291691647
  4. Dodd, M. S., Papineau, D., Grenne, T., Slack, J. F., Rittner, M., Pirajno, F., O’Neil, J., & Little, C. T. S. (2017). Evidence for early life in earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates. Nature, 543(7643), 60–64. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature21377