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There has been growing interest in finding 'second generation' alternatives to food crops that "don't grow on arable land and instead can be used specifically for bio fuels," says Professor Rob Martienssen of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Laurel Hollow, New York.
One promising candidate is a "superweed" called duckweed, the smallest flowering plant in the world. "We're interested in using or optimizing duckweed for use as a biomass bio fuel based on its ability to grow on waste water and water in places which you would never imagine crops would grow," Martienssen tells Big Think.
In other words, Martienssen calls duckweed "an exciting prospect" because it can kill two birds with one stone. "It can convert high nitrogen and high phosphorus water into much cleaner water and at the same time massively increase in biomass," Martienssen says. Duckweed doubles in size every two days, generating a huge amount of biomass in a short amount of time, and is an amazing producer of starch.
Therefore, using pathways and genes from algae, Martienssen says he is looking to "persuade" duckweed "to make oil instead of starch."
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