Green revolution fueled by duckweed?

RUTGERS (US)—In the search for new biomass sources, researchers are turning their attention to duckweed, an unassuming and fast-growing aquatic plant, which they say has tremendous potential to clean up pollution, combat global warming, and feed the world.

In July, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute announced that its Community Sequencing Program will support the genomic sequencing of duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) as one of its priority projects for 2009 directed toward new biomass and bioenergy programs.

Todd Michael, an assistant professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers, led a multi-institutional initiative to have the Joint Genome Institute perform high-throughput sequencing of the simple flowering plants.

“The Spirodela genome sequence could unlock the remarkable potential of a rapidly growing aquatic plant for absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, ecosystem carbon cycling, and biofuel production,” says Michael.

According to the researcher team, duckweed plants can extract nitrogen and phosphate pollutants from agricultural and municipal wastewater. They can reduce algae growth, coliform bacterial counts, and mosquito larvae on ponds, while concentrating heavy metals, capturing or degrading toxic chemicals, and encouraging the growth of other aquatic animals such as frogs and fowl.

These plants also produce biomass faster than any other flowering plant, serve as high-protein feed for domestic animals, and show clear potential as an alternative for biofuel production.

Scientists from the Waksman Institute, Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Institut für Integrative Biologie (Switzerland), the University of Jena (Germany), Kyoto University (Japan), and Oregon State University collaborated on the effort.

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