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Laboratory for Cellular Metabolism and Engineering Research Organisms

Research Organisms

Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

Sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is an ancient perennial aquatic plant native in tropical Asia and Queensland, Australia. It is one of two species in the genus Nelumbo, the other being Nelumbo lutea, native to North America and the Caribbean. Currently, the genus Nelumbo is assigned to its own (monotypic) family Nelumbonaceae in the order Proteales.

The sacred lotus leaves are round, reaching up to 24 inches in diameter, and can be floating or emergent. The fragrant flower stands high above the water and reaches up to 12 inches in diameter. Its center is a very characteristic, usually yellow, flat-top carpellary receptacle which develops into a dry brown seed capsule after pollination. The peduncle (flower stalk) dries out and shrivels as the seed matures, allowing the seed capsule to tilt and spread the seed.

Sacred lotus is a widely cultivated species highly prized in Asian and traditional Chinese medicine and Asian cooking. Medicinal uses include among others fungal infections, digestive disorders, and fevers. Phytochemical studies have identified alkaloids (aporphine-type such as nuciferine), triterpenes, and certain flavonoids as candidate active agents. The plant is almost entirely edible; especially its starchy nutritious rhizomes are valued both by humans and (semi-)aquatic animals. It is considered sacred in India, and symbolizes purity and perfection in Egypt. The beauty and fragrance of its flowers make it a prized ornamental plant.

For scientists, one of the most remarkable features of Nelumbo is floral thermoregulation, the capability to maintain flower temperature within a narrow range despite significant ambient temperature fluctuation during anthesis. This could be an adaptation in order to offer an energy reward for cold-blooded pollinators, or to provide optimal conditions for floral development, or to help volatilize scent compounds. The underlying molecular mechanisms are being studied.