Azolla domestication towards a biobased economy?

Paul Brouwer, A. Brautigam, C. Kulahoglu, A.O.E. Tazelaar, S. Kurz, K.G.J. Nierop, A.K. van der Werf, A.P.M. Weber, H. Schluepmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Due to its phenomenal growth requiring neither nitrogen fertilizer nor arable land and its biomass composition, the mosquito fern Azolla is a candidate crop to yield food, fuels and chemicals sustainably. To advance Azolla domestication, we research its dissemination, storage and transcriptome. Methods for dissemination, cross-fertilization and cryopreservation of the symbiosis Azolla filiculoides–Nostoc azollae are tested based on the fern spores. To study molecular processes in Azolla including spore induction, a database of 37 649 unigenes from RNAseq of microsporocarps, megasporocarps and sporophytes was assembled, then validated. Spores obtained year-round germinated in vitro within 26 d. In vitro fertilization rates reached 25%. Cryopreservation permitted storage for at least 7 months. The unigene database entirely covered central metabolism and to a large degree covered cellular processes and regulatory networks. Analysis of genes engaged in transition to sexual reproduction revealed a FLOWERING LOCUS T-like protein in ferns with special features induced in sporulating Azolla fronds. Although domestication of a fern–cyanobacteria symbiosis may seem a daunting task, we conclude that the time is ripe and that results generated will serve to more widely access biochemicals in fern biomass for a biobased economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1082
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Azolla filiculoides
  • Biobased economy
  • Cryopreservation
  • Domestication
  • Fern
  • RNAseq
  • Sexual reproduction


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