In New Jersey, Chinese and Rutgers scientists have discovered how aquatic plants cope with water pollution, a major ecological question that could help boost their use in wastewater treatment, biofuels, antibiotics and other applications.
The study is in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers used a new DNA sequencing approach to study the genome of Spirodela polyrhiza, one of 37 species of duckweed, which are small, fast-growing aquatic plants found worldwide.
The scientists discovered how the immune system of Spirodela polyrhiza adapts to a polluted environment in a way that differs from land plants. They identified the species’ powerful genes that protect against a wide range of harmful microbes and pests, including waterborne fungi and bacteria.
The study could help lead to the use of duckweed strains for bioreactors that recycle wastes, and to make drugs and other products, treat agricultural and industrial wastewater and make biofuels such as ethanol for automobiles. Duckweed could also be used to generate electricity.