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article imagePond Scum Can Undo Pollution, Fight Global Warming, Alleviate World Hunger

By Bob Ewing     Jul 8, 2008 in Environment
Three plant biologists at Rutgers’ Waksman Institute of Microbiology are obsessed with duckweed they have convinced the federal government to focuson duckweed’s potential for cleaning up pollution, combating global warming and feeding the world.
Duckweed is a tiny aquatic and three plant biologists at Rutgers’ Waksman Institute of Microbiology are so obsessed with this plant that they have convinced the federal government to focus its attention on duckweed’s tremendous potential for cleaning up pollution, combating global warming and feeding the world.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), at the behest of the Rutgers scientists and their colleagues from five other institutions, will channel resources at its national laboratories into sequencing the genome of the lowly duckweed.
The DOE’s Joint Genome Institute announced on July 2 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.
Duckweed plants can extract nitrogen and phosphate pollutants from agricultural and municipal waste water. They can reduce algae growth, coliform bacterial counts and mosquito larvae on ponds, while concentrating heavy metals, capturing or degrading toxic chemicals, and encourage the growth of other aquatic animals such as frogs and fowl.
These plants 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.
Todd Michael, a member of the Waksman Institute and an assistant professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, led the multi-institutional initiative to have the DOE’s Joint Genome Institute perform high-throughput sequencing of this smallest, fastest growing and simplest of flowering plants, said, “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.”
Michael is workign with professors Randall Kerstetter and Joachim Messing of the Waksman Institute, and scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Institut für Integrative Biologie (Switzerland), the University of Jena (Germany), Kyoto University (Japan) and Oregon State University.
The DOE’s Joint Genome Institute is operated by the University of California and includes five national laboratories – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest – and the Stanford Human Genome Center.
The search for new biomass species has revealed the potential of duckweed species to address some of our planet's major challenges as well as being used for bioremediation and environmental carbon capture.
More about Global warming, World hunger, Duckweed
 
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