The Audacious Project
Impact 2020
Year in numbers
Salk Institute For Biological Studies

Salk Institute For Biological Studies

With its Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI), the Salk Institute is helping plants develop larger, deeper root systems that can sequester significantly greater amounts of carbon dioxide and bury it in the ground for hundreds of years to come. At scale, transferring these capabilities to the world’s most prevalent food crops will have the potential to store up to 50 percent of the atmosphere’s excess CO2 per year, making a tremendous difference in controlling the world’s rising temperatures. 

Photo caption: According to research models, Salk Ideal Plants could achieve a 20 to 46 percent reduction of excess carbon dioxide levels every year. / Salk Institute
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Salk Institute For Biological Studies



Salk has begun collaborating with seed company CoverCress on the first iteration of their Ideal Plants™ solution, and completed work on a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot greenhouse. Trialling the Ideal Plants™ prototypes in this controlled environment is a critical juncture before field-testing can begin. 

Salk’s scientists made new discoveries that could help develop more resilient crops in the midst of rapid climate change. Their research centers on a hormone known as jasmonic acid to paint a picture of which genes are turned on and off during a plant’s defense response. 

Before the pandemic hit California, Salk held its first Plant Carbon Drawdown Symposium, bringing together scientists and civic leaders for two days of lectures and discussions about solutions to the problem of excess atmospheric carbon. 



The completion of the CRoPS Translation Greenhouse is a critical step in Salk’s effort to bring carbon-sequestering plants to croplands around the world. CRoPS is short for “Carbon Removal on a Planetary Scale.” / Salk Institute

Introducing Salk’s New CRoPS Translation Greenhouse 

This new supercharged facility was completed in early summer 2020, thanks to $12 million in funding from the Hess Corporation. The greenhouse has four individually climate-controlled bays and 10,000 square feet of growing space in which to move plants from the laboratory and growth chambers for further evaluation, development, optimization and selection. The move into greenhouse soil conditions will be a critical step before the field-testing of Salk Ideal Plants™, and therefore a substantial component for the success of the HPI. Once the pandemic is under control, Salk scientists will continue to move the needle even more swiftly forward on a scalable, affordable real-world solution to address the challenges and impacts of the climate crisis. 

“In 2020, humanity saw many events beyond its immediate control: our team adapted to pandemic life by moving to shift work in the lab and also working from home. Our resilience paid off. Papers and grants got written, genes for carbon sequestration were discovered, new collaborations formed and we even finalized 10,000 ft2 of state-of-the-art greenhouse space.”

Joanne Chory, Salk Institute For Biological Studies