A fern may be able to provide a significant atmospheric carbon dioxide sink while fixing nitrogen in agriculture and keeping insects away from crops.
The Azolla filiculoides fern’s full genome has now been sequenced by scientists at Cornell University and Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI), who say the plant is likely to have played a key role in transitioning Earth from a hot, carbon heavy environment to the cooler, more oxygenated place it is today.
They say the fast-growing water fern, which is commonly found fertilising rice paddies in Asia, could be used to trap current-day carbon emissions.
The fern’s genome reveals a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria, which grows on the plant and helps remove nitrogen from the air and makes it available to plants and other organic life.
The plant also has a fern-specific gene shown to provide insect resistance.
Fay-Wei Li, Plant Evolutionary Biologist at BTI and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biology at Cornell University, said: “With this first genomic data from ferns, science can gain vital intelligence for understanding plant genes.
“We can now research its properties as a sustainable fertiliser and perhaps gather carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”