Does elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration inhibit mitochondrial respiration in green plants?


B. G. Drake


ATP, adenosine triphosphate
Km, Michaelis-Menton coefficient
Ca, concentration of CO2 in the air (μmol mol–1)
NAD, oxidized nicotin adenine dinucleotide
NADH, reduced nicotin adenine dinucleotide
NADP, oxidized nicotin adenine phosphate dinucleotide
NADPH, reduced nicotine adenine phosphate dinucleotide
R, rate of respiration per unit DW [μmol g
DW–1], Rubisco, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase
Vc,max, maximum in vivo rate of carboxylation at Rubisco (μmol m–2 s–1)

There is abundant evidence that a reduction in mitochondrial respiration of plants occurs when atmospheric CO2 (Ca) is increased. Recent reviews suggest that doubling the present Ca will reduce the respiration rate [per unit dry weight (DW)] by 15 to 18%. The effect has two components: an immediate, reversible effect observed in leaves, stems, and roots of plants as well as soil microbes, and an irreversible effect which occurs as a consequence of growth in elevated Ca and appears to be specific to C3 species. The direct effect has been correlated with inhibition of certain respiratory enzymes, namely cytochrome-c-oxidase and succinate dehydrogenase, and the indirect or acclimation effect may be related to changes in tissue composition. Although no satisfactory mechanisms to explain these effects have been demonstrated, plausible mechanisms have been proposed and await experimental testing. These are carbamylation of proteins and direct inhibition of enzymes of respiration. A reduction of foliar respiration of 15% by doubling present ambient Ca would represent 3 Gt of carbon per annum in the global carbon budget.