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  • Termite guts may be the future of biofuels

Termite guts may be the future of biofuels

Feb 28 2013 Read 33418 Times

An enzyme which is used in termite digestion may be the future of biofuel production, according to researchers from Purdue University.

Scientists studied over 10,000 gene sequences from termites and discovered that there may be some enzymes that help break down lignin, the rigid material which is not easily broken down when producing biofuels. Researching into these genes that are involved in termite digestion will be able to reveal enzymes that can then be used to break down biomass much better and extract sugars well when producing biofuels.

Termites which feed on lignin-rich woody plants and biofuel analysis are now being investigated. This research is surprising considering that many scientists believed that it was bacteria living in the termite’s gut which helps to break down the lignin which is found in plant wall cells. The results have instead shown that gene expression plays a far more prominent role in the breakdown of food rather than the bacteria present. There have been at least 4,500 different species of bacteria found living in the termites’ guts.

In a statement, Michael Scharf, professor in urban entomology at Purdue University, said: “The bacteria communities seem very stable, but the host and the protozoa gene expression are changing a lot based on diet. We see much more of the playing field now.”

The research was undertaken in partnership with Florida University and was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology, and the US Department of Energy. The results will be published in the journals Molecular Ecology, Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Insect Molecular Biology.

The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that $2 billion (£1.32 billion) is spent every year in the US to control termites and repair damage that has been done by them in homes.

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