A new discovery could eventually help to feed the world and beat famine. Hundreds of thousands of tons of duckweed in ponds, rivers and canals could be the answer to global food shortages. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust are studying whether protein-rich duckweed could be farmed for human consumption as part of a £75 million project to find new ways to feed the world. More than 70,000 tons of duckweed has been removed from canal waters in Camden, near the Trust’s headquarters in London, with each layer soon being replaced by another. Sarah Molton, the research project leader said: ‘How do you feed 9 billion people by 2050? We need innovative ways to address that challenge. Duckweed could be one of them.’
Duckweed is the world’s smallest flowering plant and one of the fastest growing the Trust said. ‘It has around ten times the protein content of soy, can be grown on waste water that it simultaneously cleans up and has hardly any disease threats.’
There is a growing need for protein around the world, according to researchers at Our Planet, Our Health, an initiative run by the Wellcome Trust. Farming of traditional animal protein sources such as chicken, cows and pigs is damaging the environment by greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Scientists will analyses the digestion of duckweed protein by humans and compare it to references like casein, soy and pea. They said: ‘The results will reveal whether the plant is suitable as a new healthy protein source for human consumption and identify the types with the highest nutritional value.’ Though duckweed is not harmful to humans, Wellcome Trust said that ‘dogs and other animals have been known to mistake it for grass and ended up in the water.’ It added that ‘if left to thrive it can cause problems for wildlife by starving it of oxygen and sunlight.’
Tim Mulligan, who steers the duckweed collection boat around the Regent’s Canal, said ‘some people say it looks like a garden lawn or pea soup or green porridge. The food references are interesting though as we found that the people in South East Asia regularly eat duckweed because it has got loads of protein in it. I see plenty of ducks tucking into it, so I guess it could be the next superfood craze.’
Well well, as long as it does not turn up to be the new foie gras of the next pampered generation.