Thursday, May 8, 2014

WUWT is severely undernourished when it comes to the science of crop production with rising CO2

Sou | 3:56 PM Go to the first of 31 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts has another of his "claim" articles - which is his dogwhistle to the members of the WUWT Scientific Illiterati to display their allegiance to ignorance (archived here).

The science is about something that's been appearing in the literature over the years about the impact of rising CO2 on plant nutrients of importance to human health.  This time it's the result of a large international collaboration involving twenty scientists from the USA, Israel, Australia and Japan.

These twenty scientists are affiliated with numerous prominent organisations, including: Harvard (various), Ben-Gurion University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, UC Davis, University of Pennsylvania, DEPI Victoria Australia, National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences Japan, USDA (various), University of Arizona, The Nature Conservancy New Mexico and The University of Melbourne (various).

About FACE

No, WUWT-ers haven't done an about-face.  This is about FACE, which was the system used in the research.

ScienceDaily.com has a press release about the research paper. (As usual, Anthony didn't provide a link to the paper or to the press release.) What the various studies looked at was the impact of higher CO2 levels on multiple varieties of multiple important staple crops, including wheat, rice, field peas, soybeans, maize and sorghum. The way they did this was in open-air fields using a system that pumps out CO2 to simulate the levels expected over coming decades.  The CO2 pumping system, called FACE (Free Air Concentration Enrichment), pumps out CO2 and automatically adjusts it.  The research compared the crops grown under high CO2 with crops grown at current CO2 levels.  All the other growing conditions were the same - including sunlight, soil, water and temperature.

What they found is not a surprise to people who've been keeping up with the scientific literature but it's notable for the breadth and depth of the study, the variety of crops studied and the fact that it was conducted in open air conditions, with controls of current day conditions. As reported by ScienceDaily.com:
The study contributed "more than tenfold more data regarding both the zinc and iron content of the edible portions of crops grown under FACE conditions" than available from previous studies, the team wrote.

C3 crops have lower levels of important nutrients at higher CO2

The most important findings were that at higher CO2, a lot of the important crops (wheat, rice, field peas and soybeans) had a big reduction in zinc and iron, which is very important for human health. Zinc and iron deficiencies already affect a large number of people in the world and as CO2 rises, this could become an even bigger problem. Except for the legumes, the C3 crops also had lower concentrations of protein. Protein content is particularly important for processing qualities of wheat - making bread, pizzas and pasta for example. Of course it's also important nutritionally for wheat and rice.

Sorghum and maize are C4 plants and their nutrients weren't affected by higher CO2. C4 plants photosynthesize differently to C3 plants. From ScienceDaily.com again:
Nutrients in sorghum and maize remained relatively stable at higher CO2 levels because these crops use a type of photosynthesis, called C4, which already concentrates carbon dioxide in their leaves, Leakey said.
"C4 is sort of a fuel-injected photosynthesis that maize and sorghum and millet have," he said. "Our previous work here at Illinois has shown that their photosynthesis rates are not stimulated by being at elevated CO2. They already have high CO2 inside their leaves."

Role for plant breeders

The results of this research will be important for plant breeders.  There will need to be a focus on breeding to retain nutrients in crops grown under higher CO2 levels. It's just another feature to add to the growing list of attributes that plant breeders will need to focus on.  The list already includes breeding for drought tolerance, disease resistance under high humidity etc etc.  The abstract of the paper suggests:
Differences between cultivars of a single crop suggest that breeding for decreased sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 concentration could partly address these new challenges to global health.

From the WUWT comments

H/tip to Magma for pointing out the silliness at WUWT.

Lou says there's a simple solution - stop eating food:
May 7, 2014 at 2:10 pm
Hmm… It’s not like wheat is good for you anyway (See Heart Scan Blog or Wheat Belly Diet by Dr Mike Davis) for more information. Some are quite susceptible to wheat based food (diabetes and heart disease).
Anyway, I’ll have to see more studies to make sure that study holds up or not because as everybody already knows, leftists are desperate to label CO2 as dangerous so they’re looking for ways to demonize it.

Matt Maschinot says he's got another solution, the opposite to Lou - Matt says just eat more, not less:
May 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm
I’m curious as to what the growth efficiency was, for those plants that lost nutritional value. Is it possible that the additional CO2 increased the efficiency of the growth of the plant, and that by growing quicker, the plants did not accumulate the same level of nutrients?
If that’s the case, wouldn’t higher crop yields, result in lower cost, and higher consumption? And wouldn’t that offset the lower nutritional value of the individual plant?

schitzree doesn't know the difference between greenhouse tomatoes and open field grain and legume crops (or between greenhouse tomatoes and field tomatoes) and says:
May 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm
So I guess we need to tell commercial greenhouse owners that they’ve been wrong all this time? I’m sure they will be happy to hear they won’t have to buy all that extra CO2 anymore.

tteclod didn't bother reading the press release and has a lot of questions for most of which the answer is already provided (as if anyone at WUWT would answer them anyway). tteclod is a clod and talks about "he" instead of the "they" - being 20 scientists, and says:
May 7, 2014 at 2:22 pm
Also, he seems to differentiate between photosynthesis mechanisms. This looks like a study for a plant biologist and ag engineer to critique.
Also, what carbon-dioxide concentration did he achieve? How was the concentration measured? How was the CO2 introduced? Was the elevated CO2 level maintained throughout the daily photosynthesis cycle, or did it change according to time of day? How did they handle weather and winds in an open field. Did they measure the natural CO2 level in the region before, during, and after the experiment and compare to controls? What species of crops did they use? Did they make any comparison of nutritional values to nearby crops harvested by others?

ladylifegrows knows much more than all of those silly scientists from around the world put together, and says that the little goblins who work inside the cells of the plant factory will have lots of free time under higher CO2, because of "Rubisco". So they can turn their efforts to making other nutrients of "increased concentration and variety", presumably because they won't be as busy manufacturing carbohydrates:
May 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm
Rubisco is the name of the main plant protein that turns CO2 + H2O into sugar and oxygen. With higher CO2, the plant will need less of this protein and minerals associated with it. That will give the plant freedom to produce other nutrients in increased concentration and variety. Logically, this should mean a much more health-promoting food, but it would take sophisticated research for find out for sure or to quantify it. That pretty much cannot be done in a highly biased atmosphere. And good luck finding anything else.

Mike Maguire doesn't believe in wolves (or science), and says:
May 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm
In Aesops Fable “The boy who cried wolf” how many different times did the village people get fooled?
In the IPCC Fable, “The planet that was being destroyed by CO2″ we have been subjected to hundreds(make that many thousands) of CO2 wolf stories but the CO2 wolf still has not come after 20 years.
At this point, even if this study was valid, it is almost impossible for me to believe that finally after screaming wolf for 20 years, a real wolf(and this one, not necessarily a big bad wolf) could actually be there.

Les Johnson says he doesn't believe it, but can't be bothered going to look at the article or tables himself:
May 7, 2014 at 2:33 pm
I see some control issues here. Protein in wheat is determined by how much rain and sun, and when during the wheat development, the rain and sun are applied. How long was the study? If only a few years, or god forbid one year, then the results would be weather more than CO2.
Anyone find the paper? I would like to read about the methods.

R2D2 says that undernourished people living in underdeveloped countries should pop into their local supermarket and buy some multi-vitamins - simple!
May 7, 2014 at 2:45 pm
Or take some multi vitamin

Kon Dealer is probably correct when she or he says:
May 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm
I guess these “scientists” have never heard of the word “fertliser”? 
I haven't come across that word before, either.

tegirinenashi, who wouldn't know science if it bit him in the butt, says:
May 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm
I think there is a way to combat this endless flow of superficial half-baked “research”. Conservative think tank institutions can establish annual “Bad Science” award with nominal prizes. I don’t think researchers would think twice before publishing anything that may be caught by negative publicity of getting BS award.

Charles Nelson didn't bother reading the article. He thinks the paper is about tomatoes. (It wasn't. It was a study of grain and legume field crops.) He says:
May 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm
Pure garbage.
Are they claiming that tomatoes grown in greenhouses with elevated CO2 are less ‘nutritious’?
I’ll bet they can afford ‘organic’ fruit and veg.

Jungle says the research is meaningless because plant breeders "should be able to adapt". Jungle doesn't say how the plant breeders are supposed to know what to adapt to, without studies such as these:
May 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm
Even if this was the case. Plant breeders should be able to adapt to that scenario. Another meaningless study.

Okay, I've read enough.  There are almost 100 WUWT comments along the lines of the above. A good example of the WUWT scientific illiterati who worship ignorance and despise knowledge and learning.

Samuel S. Myers, Antonella Zanobetti, Itai Kloog, Peter Huybers, Andrew D. B. Leakey, Arnold J. Bloom, Eli Carlisle, Lee H. Dietterich, Glenn Fitzgerald, Toshihiro Hasegawa, N. Michele Holbrook, Randall L. Nelson, Michael J. Ottman, Victor Raboy, Hidemitsu Sakai, Karla A. Sartor, Joel Schwartz, Saman Seneweera, Michael Tausz, Yasuhiro Usui. Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13179 (pdf here)


  1. The stupidity on WUWT knows no bounds. For example, our favourite professional misrepresenter. Jim Steele, has been at it again, attacking 'Years of Living Dangerously'. He quotes the denier's favourite scientist Richard Feynman.. Why they latch onto him is probably because he was one of the great 'real sceptics', and fake sceptics seem to think that they themselves take after him, but they seem to forget one of Feynmans greatest quotes, "Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.", but it's this one which is most apt,
    "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are . If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong". How many of the crazy ideas that deniers come up with don't even pass the 'smell test'. All of them!!

    But it was this heinous quote-mine and misrepresentation which caught my attention.

    "Or that not one tree ring study (from locations where temperatures are not influenced by urbanization effects) supports Muller’s interpretation of rapidly rising temperatures. A paper by 10 of the world’s top dendrochronologists reported, “No current tree ring based reconstruction of extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere temperatures that extends into the 1990s captures the full range of late 20th century warming observed in the instrumental record.”4 In contrast to Muller’s reconstructions, a majority of the tree ring studies show a slight cooling since the 40s, despite the rise in during the 80s and 90s. This has been called the ‘divergence problem”."

    He quoted from this paper

    Which is about how tree rings recently haven't been representing the warming as measured by thermometers and satellites. (This then led to the 'hide the decline' meme') But Steele, in his usual cavalier fashion, has totally and wilfully misrepresented the paper to try and attack the BEST study. (Funny how the deniers have turned on the BEST study, since it doesn't agree with their ideology). The paper discusses all of the previous studies on why there has been a recent divergence is tree ring data. It's NOT what Steele suggests, that there has been cooling since the 1940's and the thermometer and satellite record is wrong. NO, it's the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. The temperature as recorded by thermometers and satellites has risen, it's just that the tree rings don't record it, due to other confounding factors. But does Steele get this? NO!! He is a total retard.

    It just goes to show how hopelessly separated from reality the Watties have become, especially those who guest post.

    1. I blogged on my site about how Steele has the grumps about the producers of Years Of Living Dangerously didn't make the show he thought they should make, using Feynman to support him. Steele keeps repeating Einstein's quote about questioning everything but he himself couldn't be bothered to question whether Pastor Rick Joyner was a reliable person to claim as an exemplar for questioning everything.

      Not surprising, Steele found my little blog and pulled out the character assassination meme. He did the same here last year. Funny how question everything turns into character assassination when it is him and his mates at WUWT who are being questioned.

  2. The tragic thing is that none of this is new. Jeff Harvey and I have often discussed this with scientific illiterates, (here almost five years ago, but even before this). Unsurprisingly it's usually to no avail - these fools can't and won't listen to facts.

    And when ignoramuses like "ladylifegrows" come out with their laughable nonsense one has to wonder what future the human species has... nature looks sure to soon chlorinate our gene pool...

  3. Well, I think my foray over at WUWT is done. I received various levels of pushback, from fairly mild to pretty nasty -- pjourdan is an especially venemous true-believer.

    WUWT readers have been steeping in propaganda for years, and believe it implicitly; nearly all are from the political far-right, and they're sure that science is being manipulated somehow. They have a wildly distorted view of what the scientific literature actually says; when I pointed out that there is no coherent anti-AGW case made in the professional literature, some of them replied that they were certain there were many scientists who are "skeptical" of the case. pjourdan in particular rants on about the "null hypothesis" and how it has not been disproven. Another commenter sent me to a paper he'd written which was entirely semantics, saying that the scientific terms used were ill-defined so that AGW is not well-stated -- as far as I could tell, it was completely irrelevant.

    I'm hoping that my brief foray over there might have set off a light bulb or two among the lurkers, but the regulars are far beyond hope. They won't believe it until it's 130 F in Kansas in the summer and Florida is entirely underwater.

    1. After a couple of dozen posts Watts blocked me. Despite his own reliance on insult, insinuation and ad hominem attacks, he was quite thin-skinned about criticism directed his way.

      I managed to cope with the tragedy.

    2. @magma A couple of dozen? How did you post that many? I was blocked after about 3!

      @palindrom Well done. I do not know how you had the patience to deal with it.

      It made me chuckle that you had two denialists, who obviously dislike each other intensely, unsure whether to insult you or their fellow denialist. Hilarious.

    3. @Jammy D. -- I noticed that too. Very funny! I almost said something like "Now I have you fighting each other!", but decided to leave it as it was.

      I actually don't hate those people -- I just think they're mistaken to the point of delusion. I think I rode the bronco as long as I did by not insulting anyone directly.

      But it is, of course, a tiresome, Sisyphean task.

      Incidentally, I hear that a 50-s themed Broadway musical is being planned based on the Myth of Sisyphus.

      It'll be called "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay".

  4. nothing new in ScienceDaily report. was it like 10 years ago that it was shows iron and zinc drop in elevated co2? oh, found it:

  5. I can speak a little to some of this.

    I know Jim Steele. Not closely, and in fact it's been several years since I've seen him, but I have spent time with in years past. He's the former director of San Francisco State U's Sierra Nevada Field Campus, and I worked in that area some years ago and also took one of their bird ID field courses later. He's a good guy overall, and he's definitely a good field biologist and ecologist, especially for California and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Obviously, being an ecologist, that's going to color my view toward him--he's not just some anonymous wacko to me.

    Nevertheless he's said some very wrong things about climate and climate change, and the fact that he posts his essays at Watts' blog is just very sad indeed. It's sad because Jim told me that he does that because Watts provides a widely read forum for expressing contrarian ideas. That he sure does, but I don't need to tell anyone here anything about A. Watts, obviously. Jim wanted to re-post some of his essays at my blog to further increase his exposure, but I had to say no to that. I did so because (1) although he definitely has some valid scientific points, (2) there is definitely a contingent of scientists who is over-selling the effects and importance of climate change relative to other ecological concerns, and (3) I have no problem whatsoever harshly criticizing bad science masquerading as the good...Jim tinges his criticisms with the personal accusations of fraud or incompetence that the Watts circus is entirely based upon. Very similar to McIntyre in that respect. So his request was a clear no-go. Rip bad science to complete shreds if need be--and it need be!--but don't go down that road of accusation without definite evidence. And don't associate with ideological idiots, not a good idea.

    The fact that you, and palindrom and the others can even tolerate reading any of that crap there amazes me, because I sure can't do it. Can't even get past the titles of his nonsense. But there are people like Jim Steele who might listen to some reason, so what you're doing is really important and needs to be acknowledged. I couldn't do it, I know that.

    1. Thanks Jim. Having looked at Steele's background out of curiosity I wondered if it might be something like that. It sounds a bit like the curse of the emeritus professor.

      Regarding scientific research, one of the dead give-aways on WUWT and similar sites is that so few of the commenters realize how competitive scientific disputes can be between researchers, especially when the competition takes a personal turn. I'm not saying that researchers _should_ take glee in poking holes in others' work, methods and conclusions... but of course some do, and the process leaves the field stronger for it.

      I started looking at WUWT a few months ago and became fascinated, like watching a car wreck in slow motion. But the non-stop display of idiocy is beginning to pall on me. One of the few things I find useful is that Watts sometimes digs up interesting papers to mock and misinterpret, including ones I might have otherwise overlooked.

    2. Jim B: From what I've seen in various blogs, Jim S. makes some valid points, and it's good to have the "CAGW" crowd being pulled up on their scientifically unsupported statements. Why not let him post on your blog, provided he leaves out any character assessments for which he has no evidence?

    3. It's a shame that Jim Steele doesn't listen to his mates. He comes across as a nut job when he posts at WUWT and even more so when he's commented here.

      In one of my earlier articles about his nonsense I commented that he should stick to what he knows, because he could probably do some real good if he wrote about rehabilitating and restoring landscapes. But he doesn't. He goes way beyond his area of competence and misrepresents and distorts things to suit his climate science denial agenda.

      He's waging personal vendettas and writing utter nonsense about climate science. He won't acknowledge his gross deceptions, like pretending winter is spring and the Chukchi is the Barents or pretending that plantings of mangroves south of their northern reaches means the northern reach hasn't expanded or making up stuff to support his wrong claim that it's not been hotter lately in Texas.

      That's the problem when people "know" people. Judith Curry is the same. People give them a pass to distort science and malign their colleagues - because they are "nice people" - who just happen to be saying very nasty and wrong things. But they "mean well" so we should play nice.

      From where I sit, "meaning well" isn't an excuse for spreading disinformation about climate science and maligning climate scientists.

      HW will continue to demolish disinformation and ridicule those who deny science - from wherever it comes.

      There could even be the odd (very odd) person who thinks Anthony Watts and Marc Morano are "nice people" too. I know people who think Australia's Andrew Bolt is "nice people". I expect almost everyone knows at least one "nice people" who is a science denier, even among their "best friends".

    4. PS My comment about a "free pass" wasn't aimed at Jim Bouldin, who clearly hasn't given Jim Steele a free pass.

      It was aimed at those who want to give the Jim Steele's and Judith Curry's of the world a free pass.

    5. Agreed, Jim needs to back off with a bunch of the stuff he says on climate change, because its not defensible. I'm not really sure what's driving him.

      Magma: agreed, I don't think most of them have any clue about true scientific debate. They sure as heck don't get it from Watts. On the other hand, maybe we've not been so great at showing people how much, and how intensely, and also with what degree of important subtlety, we scientists can disagree on things. And how strongly we can get attached to our ideas.

      PL: I considered that possibility. At the time though, I realized that I didn't have time to read carefully through all of Jim's essays, and I'm not going to put anything up that I myself haven't read inside and out and can respond to. Also, I don't think I'll ever have guest posts at my blog. It's my personal space where I can say whatever I want, whenever I want, on any topic I want. I'm already part of two collaborative efforts where I can't really do that, so I need that space as mine.

      Sou raises an important point about the tension between friendship/familiarity and speaking the truth. I hope we can get more into that, it's a good topic, and fairly well unaddressed for the most part I think.

    6. Jim B; Well, on reflection I shouldn't suggest anyone shares their blog space. If they have anything valid to say, people will find their own blog, especially if you have WTFUWT to advertise in.

      Part of my defense elsewhere of Curry is because I respected her as a scientist when I was doing work that was related to hers. So, it's like I can still see the young Anakin in Darth Vader and you assume he's still there somewhere. But at some point you have to push back against the modern Curry that's doing so much damage.

    7. Great point PL, right on the money IMO.

      Relative to my views on Jim Steele, I know for sure that he raises good questions/points regarding the importance of climate change relative to other drivers of ecosystem change, questions/points that I and many other ecologists share. You're not going to find many ecologists who just accept simple (or at least, simplistic) explanations on the drivers of ecosystem dynamics. We just have too much experience with variation, multiple causation, complex interactions, system feedbacks and delays, unexpected results etc, to do that. We're steeped in that way of thinking and I'm about 95% sure that's what underlies the purely scientific aspects parts of Jim's arguments.

    8. Perhaps if Jim wrote about what is underlying his "arguments" he might make sense. But then he wouldn't be accepted at WUWT, would he :(

  6. Completely off topic, but I was scanning through Jeff Masters Wunderblog and found this comment:

    "354. BaltimoreBrian
    2:37 AM GMT on May 09, 2014
    Quoting 245. Chucktown:

    May be heading out to Vegas in July for the big International Conference on Climate Change. Some big names are going to be out there including Big Joe Bastardi and Anthony Watts.



    Thanks for posting the links Chucktown. You helped me find the answer to something. Heartland gives "Steve Goddard's" real identity. Tony Heller.

    He is a little more than halfway down on the list of speakers on the left of this page.

    Here is the info on him that Hearland provides:

    Tony Heller has spent much of the past seven years studying the history of extreme weather, as well as the history and methodology behind the reported NOAA/NASA temperature record. Tony is an expert in computer graphics and high performance computing. He has a B.S. in Geology from ASU, and a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Rice University. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and blogs under the pen name of Steve Goddard."

    I hadn't even seen Steve Goddard's real name before.

    Link http://climateconference.heartland.org/speakers/


    1. Interesting, Nathan. I'd never seen that before either. I expect Tony Heller has given Heartland the okay to "out" him.

      His quals aren't really a surprise. Pity he has learnt nothing about climate in the past seven years.

    2. Archived http://archive.today/qu0VK if anyone needs it for future reference.

    3. I think they "had" to out him. Can't have a presentation ("look, here is how I look!") without your real name. I think even most of their most ardent supporters would consider that weird. And it's not like Heller/Goddard has anything to lose.

    4. Yes very interesting.

      Also check out this page for a list of crooks.

      What I notice is the LIES. (What is it about climate science deniers lying about their CV's).

      For instance there is this

      "Tim Ball
      Former climatology professor, University of Winnipeg"

      LIE, LIE LIE

      He was a professor of GEOGRAPHY, NOT a climatology professor. He even at one stage sued the Calgary Herald who printed a letter by someone who pointed out this egregious lie. He eventually admitted that it was a lie, and dropped the case. YET HE CONTINUES TO LIE. What a fraudster.

      Or there is this

      It states that Dr Bob Carter is a professor.

      LIE, LIE, LIE

      He lost his title of professor when he was 'kicked' out of James Cook University.

      Why do the websites of climate change deniers have to lie so much? Because they are a pack of charlatans who's main product is DOUBT.

    5. Geology/Engineering... Seems to be a perfect storm for climate denial.

      Such a shame, as I am a geologist - they give us bad names.


    6. And it seems that Patrick Moore was not a "founder", nor even a "founding member" of Greenpeace, even if he was one of the early committee member.

  7. Getting back to the original paper, I really don't like the looks of it, based on a look at the abstract, tables and figures and press release, and for a number of reasons. The lead author's comment in the Harvard press release:

    “This study is the first to resolve the question of whether rising CO2 concentrations—which have been increasing steadily since the Industrial Revolution—threaten human nutrition,” (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/rising-co2-poses-significant-threat-to-human-nutrition/)

    ranges somewhere between wildly overstated to just flat out wrong. This is exactly how scientists get themselves into trouble on this issue.

    I'll try to expound when I get the full paper but I doubt it will tell me much more than I already know.

    1. Jim, that's actually one of my criticisms of contrarians, that they draw conclusions without reading the paper itself. (Not saying that you are a contrarian :D From what you've written you think in shades of grey, like a good scientist does, and I guess lean more to the understated :))

      In the press release, the use of the word "resolve" is what I deduce Dr Myers (or the PR person who wrote the words) intended to emphasise to differentiate this paper from previous studies.

      This is a meta-analysis, using new data to provide a much larger data set for analysis.

      This study reports that in the 1990s several researchers found similar results but these were from trials in controlled environment chambers. Since then, they report, there have been studies using "open-top chambers" and free-air CO2 enriched trials (FACE), but they were unable to replicate the 1990s results. The authors attribute this to the small sample sizes limiting the statistical power.

      What this paper is reporting is results from a "meta-analysis of newly acquired data from 143 comparisons of the edible portions of crops grown at ambient and elevated [CO2] from seven different FACE experimental locations in Japan, Australia and the United States involving six food crops."

      They tested the "nutrient concentrations of the edible portions of rice (Oryza sativa, 18 cultivars), wheat (Triticum aestivum, 8 cultivars), maize (Zea mays, 2 cultivars), soybeans (Glycine max, 7 cultivars), field peas (Pisum sativum, 5 cultivars) and sorghum (Sorghum bicolor, 1 cultivar). In all, forty-one genotypes were tested over one to six growing seasons at ambient and elevated [CO2], where the latter was in the range 546–586 p.p.m. across all seven study sites. Collectively, these experiments contribute more than tenfold more data regarding both the zinc and iron content of the edible portions of crops grown under FACE conditions than is currently available in the literature."

      (Press releases are written to grab the attention of the press. If they'd written "this paper found the same as 1990s closed chamber experiments in wheat, barley and rice, plus other crops grown in the field in different locations around the world, and for more human nutrients and over one to six growing seasons - and the results are different from those of smaller sample sizes of crops grown in open chambers and individual open field trials" - it would not only have been a bit awkward, it might not have garnered any attention.)

      There is more to the research, too. They also measured phytate, which inhibits the absorption of dietary iron in the human gut. They found that for wheat, phytate decreased at higher CO2 concentrations, which for the purposes of human nutrition is a good thing. They wrote that this "might offset some of the declines in zinc for this particular crop, although the decrease was slightly less than half of the decrease in zinc. For other crops examined, however, the lack of a concurrent decrease in phytatemay further exacerbate problems of zinc deficiency".

      From the perspective of plant breeding, IMO this is an important study and deserves publication in Nature. Having said that, I'm not up to speed on related research and the literature and I may be a bit biased from a purely provincial perspective (with my previous employers being involved in the work :D)

    2. All of the tables and figures (including those in the supplement) are freely available, which coupled with the abstract and Myers' quotes in the Harvard press release, gives the essence of the paper. I now have the full paper courtesy of Myers, and as I suspected, there's nothing additional therein that changes the basic story.

      The study itself and it's overall conclusions are OK, but it most definitely does not deserve publication in Nature or similar high level journals. It's just not that important and the wording far oversells its importance. But this is exactly what we've come to expect from the glamour journals, who oversell and confuse things on a regular basis. The public needs to understand that many scientists do not particularly trust those publications, for that reason (among others).

      Detailed criticisms of the paper to follow, possibly via link to my blog, not sure.

    3. Thanks, Jim. Please do write your critique here and add a link to your article if you do a blog post. I'll be interested in reading your analysis.

    4. And note that in saying that study itself is OK, I was being brief but generous. It has some issues.

  8. no clear picture in the Nature paper. Some elements increased at higher CO2 concentrations: boron in rice increased, potassium in peas increased. Many elements had no statistical changes: calcium in rice and peas did not change, phosphorus in soybeans did not change, magnesium did not change in rice and peas. What's going on?

  9. Many, many studies in open-air fields (FACE) found that elevated co2 reduces protein in crops. It's common knowledge among plant specialists. If not for long list of authors from prominent schools and tons of funding, this paper had no chance to pass peer-review in Nature. Regurgitated old news sold as something shocking.


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