The Marsilea vestita Genome Project

Welcome to the Marsilea vestita Genome Project. This is a crowd-funded project by a group of enthusiastic University of Maryland undergraduates (Rich Zipper, Eliana Herman, Jessica Kang and Jennifer Wharton) under the direction of Steve Mount. This page ( will be used to distribute results as they become available.

Where to find out more about the Marsilea vestita Genome Project


Although ferns occupy a critical place in the evolution of plants, and the NCBI genome database has over 24,000 entries, none of these is a fern genome.

Ferns. Ferns are vascular plants that lack flowers. Because ferns are related to, but distinct from, seed plants, a fern genome is likely to be a rich source of information about the origin of genetic programs for phenomena such as plant growth and hormone signaling. Sessa et al. 2014 and Wolf et al. 2015 make the scientific case for sequencing fern genomes.

Desiccation and recovery. M. vestita is a model for dormancy and recovery from dormancy. When dried, mature plants produce sporocarps, which enclose both microspores and megaspores inside of a tough outer coating. Upon hydration, the desiccated microspore will develop from a single cell into a male gametophyte with seven sterile cells and 32 motile spermatids with 140 cilia. This transformation occurs within 11 hours. The rapid spermatid development is possible because development proceeds without transcription. Posttranscriptional control over rapid development and ciliogenesis in Marsilea is reviewed by Wolniak et al. 2015

Intron retention. The regulated and timed completion of mRNA production within the male gametophyte appears to be achieved by regulated splicing of intron-retaining transcripts (IRTs), a potentially widespread mechanism of gene regulation in plants. Genes encoding proteins associated with centrosomes, flagella, cilia, or axonemes, cell motility and locomotion, sperm and male gamete differentiation, and cell death, were found to have intron-retaining transcripts (see Boothby et al. 2013).

RNAseq data. The lab of Professor Emeritus, Dr. Stephan Wolniak (University of Maryland) has collected extensive RNA-seq data during spermatid development. The M. vestita genome will immediately add great value to that data, allowing us to unambiguously identif retained introns, alternative splicing and the like.

Feasibility. We have determined that the M. vestita genome is between 500 and 600 Mb using flow cytometry using Raphanus sativus and Arabidopsis thaliana as standards. Using funds raised by crowdsourcing through, it is feasible to sequence a genome of this size using a mix of Illumina and PacBio methods.