Completely different mechanism
Another group of plants also contain cyanobacteria that remove oxygen from the air and share it with the plant, so scientists assumed that the plants would share at least the same genes and molecules with Azolla. But now that the Azolla genome has been sequenced, it seems that the mechanism behind it is very different. “With this genome research, we have learned quite a bit more about the metabolism of these ferns”, Schluepmann says.
The study also conformed the suspicion that Azolla and the cyanobacteria evolved together. This was possible because the spores that the fern spreads contain a special compartment for the bacteria. This process of co-evolution had not yet been proven, because the Azolla genome had not been fully sequenced.
Schluepmann: “This research fills a big gap in our knowledge about plant evolution. It also deals with a floating species that achieves an extremely high rate of growth and protein production, all while floating in water without fertiliser containing nitrogen. We may be able to use this first fern genome to select for fern species that are suitable for aquaculture.”
On the cover
The first fern genomes were received enthusiastically in the scientific community - so enthusiastically, in fact, that both ferns were featured on the cover of Nature Plants.
‘Fern genomes elucidate land plant evolution and cyanobacterial symbioses’
Fay-Wei-Li, Paul Brouwer*, […], Henriette Schluepmann*, Gane K.-S. Wong, Kathleen M.Pryer;
* affiliated with Utrecht University
Nature Plants, 2 juli 2018, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-018-0188-8
This research was part of Future Food Utrecht, one of the four hubs within Utrecht University’s trans-disciplinary research programme Pathways to Sustainability.