Duckweed: The Pollution Cleaning, Climate Change Fighting Super Food?


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Though it may be a bit premature to heap too much praise upon duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) -- after all, relatively little is still known about its properties -- the early signs, at least according to a team of Rutgers scientists, seem very promising. A team of plant biologists from Rutgers' Waksman Institute of Microbiology have convinced the DOE to focus resources on the genomic sequencing of the diminutive aquatic plant, claiming it holds immeasurable potential for feeding the planet and fighting both pollution and climate change.DOE to make duckweed genome's sequencing a priority in 2009
And it's not like the Rutgers team, led by Randall Kerstetter, Joachim Messing and Todd Michael, doesn't know what it's talking about: Its efforts and that of its colleagues have already contributed to the sequencing of several important crops, including rice, corn and sorghum. The DOE's Joint Genome Institute announced earlier this month that its Community Sequencing Program would make the sequencing of duckweed one of its top priorities for 2009 as part of its biomass and bioenergy programs.

Duckweed: a pollution fighting source of food and biofuel
So what potential benefits could a better understanding of duckweed's genome yield? Scientists already know that duckweed can extract excess nitrates and phosphates from agricultural and municipal runoff, slow algal growth (thus putting a damper on eutrophication) and degrade toxic chemicals -- among other pollution-fighting functions.

Its greatest potential, however, could lie in becoming a source of biomass for alternative fuel production. Because individual organisms generate new biomass at a rate faster than any other known flowering plant, duckweed could also do in a pinch as a ready source of high-protein feed for farm animals.

That's why Todd Michael, his Rutgers colleagues and a number of international collaborators are so excited about duckweed's prospects. "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," said Michael.

Like algae, duckweed plants could eventually be grown in large ponds and processed to produce biofuel and feed for animals. Its potent abilities as a bioremediator could be harnessed simultaneously by growing it in eutrophied ponds.

Via ::Physorg: Duckweed genome sequencing has global implications (news website)

Other "miracle" plants
::Ancient Plant May Become New Source of Biofuel
::Energy: The Peel Deal
::Wonder Berries from Brazil

Tags: Pollution

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