Skip to main content

Duckweed’s strains could soon help in recycling waste and making biofuels

Scientists from China and Rutgers have discovered the coping mechanism of aquatic plants against water pollution. This discovery could instruct a better use of these plants for wastewater treatment, biofuels, antibiotics and other applications.

A novel DNA sequencing approach to study the genome of the duckweed, Spirodela polyrhiza, which are small, fast-growing aquatic plants, helped the researchers in discovering adaptive differences of the immune system between Spirodela polyrhiza and other terrestrial plants to a polluted environment. They identified the species' powerful genes that protect against a wide range of harmful microbes and pests, including waterborne fungi and bacteria.

The findings could enable the use of duckweed strains in bioreactors for recycling wastes, and making drugs and other products, treating agricultural and industrial wastewater and making biofuels such as ethanol for automobiles. Duckweed could also be used in generating electricity.

"The new gene sequencing approach is a major step forward for the analysis of entire genomes in plants and could lead to many societal benefits," said co-author Joachim Messing, Professor and director of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University—New Brunswick.

Duckweed can also serve as protein and food that is rich in mineral for people, farmed fish, chickens and livestock, especially in developing countries, according to Eric Lam, Professor in Rutgers' School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, who was not part of the study. Lam's lab is at the vanguard of duckweed farming research and development. His team houses the world's largest collection of duckweed species with more than 900 strains.

The lead author was in Messing's laboratory and now has her own laboratory at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences also contributed to the study.