The recently sequenced genome of Spirodela polyrhiza showcases why the plant makes an excellent raw source for biofuels
The ScienceDuckweed is one of the smallest and fastest-growing flowering plants that can be a hard-to-control weed in ponds and small lakes. Sequencing the genome of Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) has provides clues about how the tiny plant can be used as an efficient biofuel raw material. It turns out to have one of the smallest plant genomes and is missing many genes, including those for plant maturation and production of cellulose and lignin. It has more genes than comparable plants for starch production.
The ImpactDuckweed shows great promise as a biofuel feedstock. Private companies are already exploring using duckweed to produce fuel. Because of duckweed’s many unique traits (low cellulose and lignin production and high starch production) and life cycle, insights from its genome can tell us a lot about the genes are involved in production of cellulose and lignin. Removing these woody materials from feedstock has been a major challenge in biofuel production. Moreover, S. polyrhiza’s high starch content is also a desirable trait in biofuel feedstock.
Duckweed is a relatively simple plant with fronds that float on the surface of the water and roots that extend into the water. In the flask on the left, you can see the dormant phase, turions, that have dropped to the bottom. Photo by Wenquin Wang