UMBC Biology Council of Majors

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The Azolla Genome Project

Posted by BioCoM Executive Account on June 22, 2014 at 11:50 PM

Back in April, I posted a summary of how Fay-Wei Li, a PhD candidate at Duke University, uncovered how ferns survived in low levels of light. They utilized the neochrome gene obtained from the hornwort via horizontal gene transfer. This gene allowed the fern to essentially absorb more light by enabling it to absorb red light along with the blue light it normally absorbs.

The research lab that Fay-Wei is a part of has recently geared their focus on a different species of fern called Azolla. Led by Dr. Kathleen Pryer, their goal is to sequence the genome of Azolla to primarily understand how it absorbs atmospheric nitrogen to “fix” it by turning it into ammonia which the plant uses as natural fertilizer to grow.

It has long been practiced in Asia to grow Azolla together with rice in order to boost productivity by acting as a natural fertilizer. By sequencing the genome of Azolla, Pryer and her team hope to be able one day genetically modify their nitrogen fixing ability into all plants such as wheat and corn. This would rid the need of expensive fertilizers that are harmful to the environment. Therefore, it would decrease the cost of food production which means cheaper food and a greener earth!

The team is currently requesting funds for their project through and are accepting questions regarding their project via in their own Science AMA (Ask Me Anything). The video on is also a great source for more insight on how Azolla plays a role in the search for alternative energy sources.

Follow these links below if you want to learn more about the amazing plant Azolla and the team that wants to unlock its secrets! (Side note: I thought it was awesome how Dr. Pryer’s lab named a whole genus of ferns after Lady Gaga.)


Pryer, Kathleen. "Azolla Genome Project." Azolla Genome Project. Duke University, 30 May 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.




Categories: Environment News

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