01. What are genomic technologies?
Genomic technologies are tools that analyze or manipulate genomic information (DNA, RNA and protein metabolites). Genomic technologies is simply a way of referring to the use of life’s building blocks in understanding and improving the resilience of our living systems. These tools include the use of high-throughput DNA sequencing, CRISPR, and single-cell genomics. These technologies have largely been focused on improving human health, agricultural production, and energy production. Lab to Land uses genomic technologies to deliver climate resilience.
02. Why isn’t this already happening? Why isn’t genomic technology already delivering climate resilience on wildlands?
The short answer is market failures. Markets don’t place value on a stable climate. Carbon prices are too low and ecosystem services are un-priced. But, climate change will ultimately disrupt “business as usual.” Carbon prices will increase and climate-motivated scientific advances will appear and be valued. It’s just a matter of when and how. Lab to Land is developing precision tools to demonstrate what’s possible - and to shift markets toward climate resilience.
03. Why wildlands - and what do we mean by ‘wildlands’?
We focus on wildlands – the 19.2 billion acres of our planet that are not covered in ice and that do not fall into the categories of industrial agriculture or cities and other developed spaces. That’s over 52 percent of global landmass, largely forests, grasslands, shrub lands, and deserts.
Wildlands present a huge, untapped opportunity for climate resilience and carbon removal. Not only are wildlands at risk of species loss, sea level rise, and new pests and invasive species due to climate change, climate change can turn wildlands into sources of massive greenhouse gas emissions – for example, the carbon dioxide released by wildfires or the methane released by melting permafrost.
04. Are you concerned about unintended consequences?
We take the human and ecological consequences of scientific advancements seriously; that is why we built a model which both develops applied solutions and devotes equal time to understanding and enabling the most equitable and land stewardship models which receive and implement those solutions effectively, ethically, and equitably.
First, our research couples substantial lab, greenhouse and controlled garden plot experiments with precise, ecosystem specific data. This methodology allows us to precisely target ecosystem-critical species, deeply understand the surrounding soil microbiome, and observe consequences over time. In this way we can anticipate ecosystem scale impacts in early research phases.
Second, we focus on acres where existing ecosystems are under threat -- landscapes substantially affected by drought, megafire, species loss, water quality and quantity degradation, and erosion. We select a single bio-region and focus a portfolio of approaches on that landscape. This enables us to study broader impacts on a single bio-region during the research phases, and allows us to accelerate impact for a climate-critical ecosystem without sacrificing rigor.
Third, the work which our research partners and Fellows take on relies on technologies already in use in agricultural settings. Our first portfolio of precision solutions specifically focuses on existing approved approaches in agriculture and applies those methodologies to homologous species in climate critical landscapes. This is the case with both our Phoenix Soil and Phoenix Grass initiatives. This allows us to rely on substantial research from the agricultural and academic industries before us.
05. Why Lab to Land?
The ‘scaffolding’ between lab and land is missing. Lab to Land is the necessary, focused, unrelenting third party to step-in. Today, the economic, socio-cultural and political pathways to implementation for genomic technologies are primarily agricultural. Lab to Land takes advantage of existing ag-focused research + regulation in order to drive license of IP - but remains doggedly focused on public benefit and climate impact for wildlands.
We provide three areas of value: gathering and distilling genetic information about native soils and plants in high-risk regions, using that information to create effective climate solutions; and building networks of multidisciplinary stakeholders and land stewards who can create the policies and practices for their effective, ethical, equitable use. And we have a nimble, proven team to drive impact and outcomes. (We know how to move these ideas from 0 to 1; to open the regulatory pathways and hold space for the challenges).
06. Are there examples out there you look to for your model and programs?
Yes. For effective solutions at the intersection of genomic technologies, sustainable land stewardship and climate action: the American Chestnut tree. For a programmatic model that delivers solutions and ensures the proverbial ‘nest’ is ready when the egg arrives: Aspen Institute + DARPA, or, a mission driven Academic Tech Transfer Office (with several campuses worth of laboratories and a public impact mandate).