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Climate Change Can Make Crops Less Nutritious

Published on: Aug 28 2017

New research studies show that rising carbon levels may impact the nutrition of crops globally.

Bag of rice image

Carbon dioxide is one of just a few resources plants need to grow, along with water and sunlight. As CO2 levels increase in our atmosphere due to global warming, plants will see an abundance of this resource, which can have an impact on how plants grow.

A recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspective found that rising CO2 levels lead to a decrease in protein content of crops like wheat and rice, which use a type of photosynthesis that is impacted by elevated CO2 levels. Protein deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the world, so this decrease in protein content could be especially concerning on developing countries where the bulk of protein intake comes from staple crops like wheat or rice. The study found that protein content of crops which use alternative photosynthesis, like legumes, maize, and sorghum, were not impacted by the elevated CO2 levels, meaning the effects of elevated CO2 levels could be specific to different countries based on which staple crop is most commonly eaten.

Another study in the journal GeoHealth found that elevated CO2 levels can also impact iron content of crops. This impact was seen across many different crops, unlike the protein findings above, meaning the decrease in iron intake would not be isolated to specific countries.Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide, and can have severe impacts on health, so a decrease in iron content of staple crops could lead to even more individuals being put at risk for deficiency.

These findings could have implications for nutrition and may suggest fortification strategies may need to change in the future.

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