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On July 17, 2014, the world decided it wanted to learn the genomic secrets hidden in the beautiful little, floating water fern, Azolla filiculoides. Not only did they want to know, but they paid for it too—a whopping $22,160 from 123 backers—through a crowdfunding site called Experiment.com.
Four years later, they have what they paid for, and more! The project was backed at 147% of the budgeted goal, which allowed the researchers to sequence and analyze the first fern genome ever. With the extra funds, they could sequence a second fern, Salvinia cucullata. Their results appear this month in the journal Nature Plants.
First - Author - Fay-Wei - Li - Professor
First author, Fay-Wei Li, is a professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, NY, but began his quest for the Azolla genome as a graduate student researcher at Duke University in Durham, NC. His Ph.D. advisor was Kathleen Pryer, a professor at Duke and last author on the paper.
Pryer had been trying to get the project funded for nearly two decades. "I was met with responses like 'too unconventional' and 'not important enough'," she said. Together, Pryer and Li led an online campaign, which you can read more about here, to garner support for the project.
Efforts - Attention - Beijing - Genomics - Institute
Eventually, their fundraising efforts caught the attention of the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) in Shenzhen, China, who offered to provide all their sequencing needs free of charge. With this additional support, and a collaboration forged with Henriette Schlupmann at Utrecht University, they embarked on a four-year journey to explore the unknown fern genome space.
So what's so special about a little fern anyway?
Azolla - Biology - History - Li - Azolla
"Azolla has a really cool biology and evolutionary history," said Li. "Azolla engages in symbiosis with cyanobacteria for nitrogen fixation, and for this reason it has been used as a green manure for rice paddies in Asia for hundreds of years."
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