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article imageDuckweed makes for a good biofuel source

By Tim Sandle     Feb 25, 2014 in Science
Duckweed is a tiny floating plant and often seen as an unwanted weed. Now it seems as if the plant could have an economic value: as a source for biofuels.
By assessing the genome of Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza), scientists think that the minuscule plant has great potential as a biofuel source. The use of the plant would be as the starting raw material in the biofuel process. This would be using the woody material that makes up the bulk of the plant, such as lignin and cellulose.
One of the advantages of looking at duckweed is that it is found almost everywhere. Duckweed is found in almost all geographic areas, at nearly any altitude. By understanding the genetic make of the plant, will allow researchers to create new varieties of duckweed with enhanced biofuel traits, such as increased reduction of cellulose or increased starch or even higher lipid production.
Biofuels include fuels derived from biomass conversion. To produce a biofuel involves the application of an enzyme. Polysaccharides (sugar polymers) that make up the bulk of a plant have to be broken down into simple sugars. These are then fermented to produce liquid biofuels.
Biofuel research is not without controversy. Critics argue that it diverts crop production away from much needed food and towards industry, as Michigan Radio point out in their news review of this research.
The new research was carried out at the Rutgers University, the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and the findings have been published in the journal Nature Communications. The paper is titled “The Spirodela polyrhiza genome reveals insights into its neotenous reduction fast growth and aquatic lifestyle”.
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