Peanuts are not grown commercially in Iowa, but many Iowans find they’re a fun addition to the back yard garden. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are studying how climate change could affect peanuts and how they are grown. USDA plant physiologist Lewis Ziska is trying to determine how increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might impact peanut production.
“Peanuts are a very important source of protein globally and one of the things that we consistently see is that while CO2 can stimulate the growth of plants, it also tends to reduce the protein concentration. So we’d like to know how much it’s reducing it and whether that’s the same for different lines,” Ziska says.
Researchers are hoping to find peanut varieties that convert additional CO2 into increased seed yield. Ziska says it’s critically important to develop a long-term breeding program to increase yields for peanut growers in the United States and elsewhere.
“It’s a major source of protein. So, having a good crop of peanuts is something…if you look at what people grow globally, it isn’t just that they are growing corn, it isn’t just that they are growing wheat, you have to have a source of protein as well and the peanut often is that source,” Ziska says.
The USDA researchers are also studying how increased CO2 might affect peanut allergy properties. Iowa State University was home to possibly the most famous peanut researcher ever — George Washington Carver. He earned a master’s degree in 1896 from ISU and made more than 300 products from peanuts.