According to the UN, there are less than 12 years left to solve climate change and approximately two years to find the solution. At Photome Labs (Photosynthetic Organism Genomes), we wanted to focus on the carbon crisis, as there are many different interconnecting problems within climate change.

Every year, 18 Gigatons of carbon more than what Earth can handle is emitted into the atmosphere. This is a massive problem and many companies are working on solving it by creating machines + technologies that sink carbon. However, we realized that these solutions (direct air capture, ocean trapping, etc.) aren’t efficient enough to solve this problem.

We discovered that plants are already amazing at sequestering carbon and made it our mission to help curb carbon levels using their natural photosynthetic abilities. At Photome, we leverage genetic engineering to create “super-plants” that sequester more atmospheric carbon into Earth’s soil.

We are working on research in the genomes of photosynthetic organisms, identifying key gene families that control photosynthesis like the cyanobacterial gene that encodes plant rubisco activase, and early genetic engineering projects on angiosperm plants.

Plants have been genetically engineered before but what makes our approach innovative is we hope to help use the technology to create more powerful natural carbon sinks with the help of not only genes from plants but the most powerful genes from photosynthetic organisms.

Sequestering atmospheric carbon into Earth’s soil is great for balancing carbon levels in the atmosphere. It also improves soil health and crop health + production.

What inspired you (or your team)?

Our team has always been extremely passionate about the environment! We both have aligned missions of wanting to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems and climate change is important to both of us.

Climate change doesn’t directly affect our lives, but we’ve heard stories of people whose lives are affected by it. More specifically people in marginalized communities, coastal regions, and developing countries are more impacted by the effects of climate change (for example, natural disasters).

I remember discussing how we wanted to work on a project that could help slow the climate crisis in early January 2019. Genetic engineering was something I just learned about and it fascinated me. I asked one of my friends: “What if we could genetically engineer trees to sink more carbon?” That’s where it all began.

In March, I remember watching a new documentary series called “Our Planet” and learning about the devastating effects of Earth’s changing climate on animals. This made me want to do something and the documentary series also introduced me to other photosynthetic organisms beyond trees (and other angiosperms) like sea kelp. Sea kelp sinks up to 75x more carbon than a tree in the Amazon rain forest. In fact, the ocean is the world’s largest carbon sink and produces approximately 80% of our world’s oxygen. This led to a discussion on researching the incredible ecosystems in the ocean and the photosynthetic abilities of the carbon sinks in it. There must be a gene in sea kelp that gives it the ability to sink 75x more carbon than a tree! What if we could engineer land plants to express it too?

We wanted to do something to protect our planet and all the organisms that live here too. Helping to slow the climate crisis would also help increase the quality of life for many people and this is important to both of us as well. In working on a problem like carbon sinking, within climate change we could help solve many interconnecting problems too.

As we’ve continued our journey researching photosynthetic organisms, understanding the planet, and learning genetic engineering we’ve been inspired by many different things: people we’ve talked to about our vision, climate activists, our support systems, documentaries like “Our Planet”, and so much more. But ultimately we’re so passionate about protecting the environment that it’s become our personal missions to do something about the climate crisis. We’re driven by this mission and hope to find more people who align with it too because solving big problems like the climate crisis will take a lot of global collaboration.