As ridiculous as that may sound, this prediction could be closer to coming true than you think. Purdue University Professor of Molecular Physiology Mike Scharf states that termite guts are like miniature biofuel refineries. What’s unique about termites is that they are able to digest wood pulp through a combination of their own digestive enzymes and symbionts living in their intestines.

For years, it was thought that most of the digestion was occuring through the work of the protozoa living inside a termite’s intestinal tract. However, recent research by Scharf has proved conclusively that the host termite also contributes specific enzymes to the process, increasing the digestive efficiency beyond what the symbionts can break down by themselves.

With results in hand, Professor Scharf worked with Chesapeake Perl, a protein production company located in Maryland, to synthesize artificial versions of the identified enzymes used in digestion. These enzymes work to break down the wood pulp and other biomass into sugars which are needed for fermentation into ethanol.

The next step is to identify the best composition of these artificial enzymes in conjunction with those naturally occuring in termites to extract the maximum amount of sugars, thus maximizing the efficiency of wood pulp biofuel manufacturing. So be nice to termites, they could be responsible for filling up our tanks in the not too distant future.

Source: Futurity

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