Large-scale sequestration of atmospheric carbon via plant roots in natural and agricultural ecosystems: why and how

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012 Jun 5;367(1595):1589-97. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0244.


The soil holds twice as much carbon as does the atmosphere, and most soil carbon is derived from recent photosynthesis that takes carbon into root structures and further into below-ground storage via exudates therefrom. Nonetheless, many natural and most agricultural crops have roots that extend only to about 1 m below ground. What determines the lifetime of below-ground C in various forms is not well understood, and understanding these processes is therefore key to optimising them for enhanced C sequestration. Most soils (and especially subsoils) are very far from being saturated with organic carbon, and calculations show that the amounts of C that might further be sequestered ( are actually very great. Breeding crops with desirable below-ground C sequestration traits, and exploiting attendant agronomic practices optimised for individual species in their relevant environments, are therefore important goals. These bring additional benefits related to improvements in soil structure and in the usage of other nutrients and water.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Carbon / chemistry*
  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Crops, Agricultural / chemistry
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genes, Plant
  • Plant Roots / chemistry*
  • Plant Roots / genetics
  • Plant Shoots / chemistry
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Systems Biology


  • Soil
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon