Duckweed is the world’s fastest growing plant. If you’ve ever tried to get rid of it in a farm pond, you’ll probably agree. However, it’s being researched as a domestic human food source and an agricultural crop that can be grown in both urban and rural farming operations.
Eric Lam is a distinguished professor of plant biology at Rutgers University. For ten-years he’s been studying different strains of the tiny plant and its nutritional value.
"There are particular strains that have been measured to have up to 40% dry weight in protein, and the protein content has been examined by a number of researchers to have very good compliments of different essential amino acids," says Lam. "So, it’s compared very favorably, for example, with soybeans which is one of the most common sources of plant protein."
In nature, duckweed is grown on the pond, but Lam says that’s difficult to standardize. They grow it hydroponically in a lab in much smaller, easy to manage modules.
"And duckweed because of its small size allows you to do that, to scale at different levels. So, we could start with one square meter, for example, as a size of a tray and learn how to grow it," he says. "Then, by integrating that tray with other trays vertically and horizontally, we can then scale very quickly."
Lam says they’re tweaking optimal nutrients, lighting, and temperature to promote the fastest growth. In the meantime, they have a commercial venture called “Planet Duckweed” to attract collaborators and investors.