Fungus in Invasive Insect's Gut Could Lead to Better Biofuel Production

asian longhorned beetle photo

photo: Wikipedia

Most of the time I try to post on practical aspects of renewable energy. While it may be changes in policy or a new project, both are still practical. Unless a new piece of research has such a radical potential to change the playing field, or is at least at the demonstration stage, I don't always write about it. For this one though, I'm breaking pattern. This one's a long, long way from commercialization, but it's really pretty interesting.

Unique Strain of Fungus Lives Aids in Breaking Down Wood
Researchers at Penn State University believe that a type of fungus in the Asian longhorned beetle—an invasive species in the United States which threatens many species of hardwood trees— which can break down wood may one day be used in the production of cellulosic biofuels.
Kelli Hoover, an associate professor of entomology at Penn State:

This type of fungus is known to cause disease in plants, but this particular strain appears to be unique. It looks like these insects somehow acquired the fungus to live in their gut and help them break down wood.

Asian Longhorned Beetle's Fungus More Efficient Than Other Fungi
Hoover points out that this fungus is far more efficient than other free-ranging fungi which can break down wood, which can take months to do so. Hoover's colleague Scott Geib adds that, "Getting rid of the lignin barrier and making the cellulose more accessible is the most expensive and environmentally unfriendly past of making ethanol from biomass," and that this discovery could potentially lead to developing more efficient enzymes for converting wood into ethanol.

So, in a nutshell, a fungus in the gut of an invasive insect species which threatens forest ecosystems in the United States could potentially lead to new ways of converting woody biomass into fuel. Somehow, somewhat inexplicably, a smile comes to my face from this one.

The original article in :: Gant Daily has got all the details on the research.

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