Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Pond-dwelling powerhouse's genome points to its biofuel potential

19.02.2014
Duckweed is a tiny floating plant that's been known to drive people daffy.

It's one of the smallest and fastest-growing flowering plants that often becomes a hard-to-control weed in ponds and small lakes. But it's also been exploited to clean contaminated water and as a source to produce pharmaceuticals.


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.

Credit: Wenquin Wang

Now, the genome of Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) has given this miniscule plant's potential as a biofuel source a big boost. In a paper published February 19, 2014 in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from Rutgers University, the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and several other facilities detailed the complete genome of S. polyrhiza and analyzed it in comparison to several other plants, including rice and tomatoes.

Simple and primitive, a duckweed plant consists of a single small kidney-shaped leaf about the size of a pencil-top eraser that floats on the surface of the water with a few thin roots underwater. It grows in almost all geographic areas, at nearly any altitude. Although it's a flowering plant, it only rarely forms small indistinct flowers on the underside of its floating leaves. Most of the time, it reproduces by budding off small leaves that are clones of the parent leaf. It often forms thick mats on the edges of ponds, quiet inlets of lakes and in marshes. It's among the fastest growing plants, able to double its population in a couple of days under ideal conditions.

These and other properties make it an ideal candidate as a biofuel feedstock – a raw source for biofuel production. For example, unlike plants on land, duckweeds don't need to hold themselves upright or transport water from distant roots to their leaves, so they're a relatively soft and pliable plant, containing tiny amounts of woody material such as lignin and cellulose. Removing these woody materials from feedstock has been a major challenge in biofuel production. Also, although they are small enough to grow in many environments, unlike biofuel-producing microbes, duckweed plants are large enough to harvest easily.

S. polyrhiza turns out to have one of the smallest known plant genomes, at about 158 million base pairs and fewer than 20,000 protein-encoding genes. That's 27 percent fewer than Arabidopsis thaliana – which, until recently, was believed to be the smallest plant genome – and nearly half as many as rice plants.

"The most surprising find was insight into the molecular basis for genes involved in maturation – a forever-young lifestyle," said senior author Joachim Messing, director of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University.

S. polyrhiza leaves resemble cotyledons, embryonic leaves inside plant seeds that become the first leaves after germination. But where other plants develop other kinds of leaves as they mature, S. polyrhiza's never progresses and continuously produces cotyledon leaves. This prolonging of juvenile traits is called "neoteny." S. polyrhiza had fewer genes to promote and more genes to repress the switch from juvenile to mature growth.

"Because of the reduction in neoteny, there is an arrest in development and differentiation of organs. So this arrest allowed us to uncover regulatory networks that are required for differentiation and development," Messing said.

Also intriguing to the research team were which genes were preserved over time and which were not. Many of the genes responsible for cellulose and lignin production in land dwelling plants were missing, and there were fewer copies of those that were present. Genes for another compound related to cell walls called "expansins" which are involved with cell wall and root growth were also reduced.

Genes for starch production, on the other hand, were retained and are probably used for creating starch-filled turions, specialized buds produced by aquatic plants for overwintering, enabling them sink to the bottom of ponds and revive in warmer weather. Moreover, despite the reduced number of total genes, S. polyrhiza has more copies of genes for enzymes involved in nitrogen absorption and metabolism than in other plants. This is probably linked to the plant's ability to utilize excess nitrogen in contaminated waters.

A thorough understanding of the genome and cellular mechanisms of S. polyrhiza could greatly enhance current efforts to recruit duckweed as a biofuel source. Messing estimates that duckweed will be a viable biofuel source within the next five years and points to Ceres Energy Group in New Jersey, which is already producing electricity from duckweed. Understanding which genes produce which traits 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. Starch can be directly used as a biofuel source and it can be converted to ethanol, the way corn is currently converted to ethanol fuel, but oils would have greater energy than ethanol.

"Classical breeding or genetics does not apply here because of its clonal propagation and rare flowering, but these organisms can be transformed with DNA," Messing said. "Therefore, new variants can be created with modified pathways for industrial applications. These variants would be an enhancement over what can be done now."

This genome was sequenced as part of a DOE Office of Science JGI Community Science Program (CSP) project (formerly the Community Sequencing Program). It exemplifies the collaborative approach and innovative projects that the CSP enables among researchers. Messing pointed to the study's advances over previous research.

"The sequencing of this genome opens new frontiers in the molecular biology of aquatic plants," said Messing. "This publication represents the single largest advance in this field and a new milestone in plant molecular biology and evolution, as previous studies were either classical botany or biochemistry of photosynthesis. The placement of the Spirodela genome as a basal monocot species will serve as a new reference for all flowering plants."

The authors on the publication also include researchers from MIPS/IBIS, Helmholtz Center Munich, Germany; University of California, Davis; Georgia Institute of Technology; Brookhaven National Laboratory; Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; University of Jena, Germany, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology; and the Leibniz-Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Germany.

The DOE Joint Genome Institute has announced a new call for letters of intent for the 2015 Community Science Program, due April 10, 2014. Details of the 2015 CSP call can be found at: http://bit.ly/CSP-15.

The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported by the DOE Office of Science, is committed to advancing genomics in support of DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. DOE JGI, headquartered in Walnut Creek, Calif., provides integrated high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis that enable systems-based scientific approaches to these challenges. Follow @doe_jgi on Twitter.

DOE's Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

David Gilbert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lbl.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>