Our old friend the fungi, which brought us the era of coal and the industrial revolution, could be fighting back against our efforts to our capture carbon emissions.

While plants are the most efficient carbon sequestration machines and are necessary for life on earth, there is a deep dark secret residing down under the soil. Turns out, fungi living on the roots doesn’t really care for the extra CO2 we have been pumping out and works hard to release it back into the atmosphere instead of allowing the plant to store it. Researcher Shuijin Hu of North Carolina State University discovered this when he ran a series of experiments to see what happened when plants increased their photosynthesis rate to attempt to capture and store higher CO2 levels present in the atmosphere.

Hu and his associates grew a grass in enclosed cases which contained elevated levels of CO2, with some of the grasses containing fungi in the roots and some not. What they found was that after 10 weeks of growth, CO2 levels in the chamber containing the fungi were much higher than in the one without it. In addition, the higher amounts of CO2 actually stimulated the fungi to break down the soil which in turn released even more CO2 into the chamber. The fungi was not only releasing CO2 but it was helping to generate more of it.

Could root fungi be fighting our planet’s efforts to sequester and store excess CO2 emitted into the atmosphere? Researchers and scientists aren’t 100 percent sure if the findings can be transferred to the real world, but it is an interesting hypothesis and one that definitely needs additional study. If it holds up, it may be time to go back to the drawing board in search of new ways to capture some of the CO2 emissions we are busy pumping into the atmosphere.

[via New Scientist]

Image Credit: Vik Nanda/Flickr