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DISCOVERY: TERMITE GUTS MAY HOLD KEY TO BETTER BIOFUELS

THE EFFICIENT PROCESSES THAT TERMITES USE TO TURN WOOD INTO FOOD COULD BE HARNESSED TO TRANSFORM WOOD INTO FUEL AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO CROPS LIKE CORN

ethanol1.jpgThe back half of a termite is an odd place to look to solve the world’s energy crisis, but scientists believe the insects’ guts may hold the key to better and cheaper biofuels.

Researchers said on Wednesday that they have identified a rich reservoir of wood-digesting enzymes exuded by bacteria living in termites.

The efficient processes the insects use to turn wood into food could one day be harnessed in factories to transform wood into fuel for transport as an alternative to crops like corn.

The discovery follows a genome-wide analysis of bacteria from the hindgut of the Nasutitermes termite species in Costa Rica, published in the science journal Nature.

Soaring oil prices and concerns about climate change have triggered a boom in biofuels produced from renewable resources like sugar, corn and soybeans.

But making gasoline substitutes from wood – a plentiful but tougher biomass source – has proved elusive.

Termites, whose voracious appetite for wood causes massive damage to homes worldwide, have no such problems. In fact, their intestines are astonishingly efficient bioreactors – chemical processing chambers.

Now the secret of how they convert wood into sugars is starting to be unlocked by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, the California Institute of Technology and biotechnology company Verenium Corp.

MORE….

Source: Reuters

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