Hidden shift of the ionome of plants exposed to elevated CO₂depletes minerals at the base of human nutrition

Elife. 2014 May 7;3:e02245. doi: 10.7554/eLife.02245.


Mineral malnutrition stemming from undiversified plant-based diets is a top global challenge. In C3 plants (e.g., rice, wheat), elevated concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (eCO2) reduce protein and nitrogen concentrations, and can increase the total non-structural carbohydrates (TNC; mainly starch, sugars). However, contradictory findings have obscured the effect of eCO2 on the ionome-the mineral and trace-element composition-of plants. Consequently, CO2-induced shifts in plant quality have been ignored in the estimation of the impact of global change on humans. This study shows that eCO2 reduces the overall mineral concentrations (-8%, 95% confidence interval: -9.1 to -6.9, p<0.00001) and increases TNC:minerals > carbon:minerals in C3 plants. The meta-analysis of 7761 observations, including 2264 observations at state of the art FACE centers, covers 130 species/cultivars. The attained statistical power reveals that the shift is systemic and global. Its potential to exacerbate the prevalence of 'hidden hunger' and obesity is discussed.DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.02245.001.

Keywords: crops; elevated CO2; human nutrition; ionome; iron; zinc.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Minerals / metabolism*
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Plants / classification
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity


  • Minerals
  • Carbon Dioxide

Grant support

The author declares that there was no external funding for this work.