Peat moss species in peatlands store about 30 percent of the world's soil carbon, which amounts to almost twice as much carbon emissions than the world's forest combined can absorb.

But peat harvesting and climate change threaten them because the founder material for cultivating peat moss on a large scale is not enough.

Scientists from the University of Greifswald and the University of Freiburg in Germany has established the most extensive laboratory collection of mosses of the genus Sphagnum central. Their study, published in the scientific journal New Phytologist, aims to grow mosses sustainably and economically.

The study is led by Professor Ralf Reski, a plant biotechnologist from the  University of Freiburg's Department of Biology. Together with the first author Melanie Heck, a Ph.D. student.

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The World's Largest Collection of Moss Could Save the Planet
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Sphagnum centrale

World's Largest Collection of Moss

The project is called MOOSzucht, wherein the scientists collect sporophytes, the diploid multicellular stage of algae or plant, of 19 Sphagnum species in different countries including Austria, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Sweden, and the Netherlands. 

MOOSzucht, the world's largest collection of Sphagnum centrale, is housed in the International Mos stock Center (IMSC). The scientists used the spores of the mosses they collected to create pure peat moss cultures inside the laboratory, a clean environment not contaminated with algae, bacteria, and fungi.

Some species grew 50 to 100 ties inside the laboratory setting than their usual habitat in a moor landscape. The team of scientists measured the growth of the moss in liquid medium with nutrients known as suspension cultures.

Moreover, the researchers also determined the number of sets of chromosomes found in the cell nuclei in the cultures and compared their findings to the genome size of the Physcomitrella patens to identify which one of them are species with single or double sets of chromosomes.

But they still were unable to find the correlation between the number of sets of chromosomes and moss growth. In other words, they failed to answer the question as to why diploid mosses exist.

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Climate Change Destroys Peat Moss

Peat is harvested to use for ornamental plants and growing vegetables and gardens. However, climate change that brought droughts and high temperatures have slowed down the growth of peat mosses, which deteriorates it more quickly and absorbing less carbon.

Through their study, the researchers hope to replace the dire need for peat using renewable biomass. But there is a lack of founder material needed because it can only be obtained in bioreactors. So, they decided to distribute lab strains of peat mosses to multiple research institutions and companies that are actively operating and doing basic research on biotechnology and sustainable energy.

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