Major crops lose nutrients when grown in elevated carbon dioxide levels

Rice, wheat, and other staple crops lose nutrients when exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to recent studies.

Samuel Myers, principal research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Harvard-based Planetary Health Alliance, and colleagues have conducted studies in which crops are grown bathed in air that simulates the predicted atmospheric conditions at the end of the 21st century, when global levels of CO2 are expected to increase. The studies showed declines in protein, iron, and zinc in wheat, and declines in iron and zinc in soybeans and field peas.

In a June 19, 2018 story on NPR’s Morning Edition, Myers said that these sorts of declines could be a big problem for populations who rely on wheat, soybeans, or peas to provide a meaningful amount of these nutrients and who may already be at risk of nutrient insufficiencies.

“There’s quite high global vulnerability to these effects, and we’re likely to see really significant health impacts from these nutrient changes,” he said.

Read NPR article: As carbon dioxide levels rise, major crops are losing nutrients

Learn more

Change in the air (Harvard Public Health)

Millions may face protein deficiency as a result of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions (Harvard Chan School news)