Secret Site Map
Friday, October 24, 2014

Home News Termites' Digestive System Could Act as Biofuel Refinery, Purdue Researchers Say

Termites' Digestive System Could Act as Biofuel Refinery, Purdue Researchers Say

Termite Control

Mike Scharf's work with termites has shown that the insects' digestive systems may help break down woody biomass for biofuel production. (Photo: Purdue Agricultural Communication/Tom Campbell)

| July 6, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - One of the peskiest household pests, while disastrous to homes, could prove to be a boon for cars, according to a Purdue University study.

Mike Scharf, the O. Wayne Rollins/Orkin Chair in Molecular Physiology and Urban Entomology, said his laboratory has discovered a cocktail of enzymes from the guts of termites that may be better at getting around the barriers that inhibit fuel production from woody biomass. The Scharf Laboratory found that enzymes in termite guts are instrumental in the insects' ability to break down the wood they eat.

The findings, published in the early online version of the journal PLoS One, are the first to measure the sugar output from enzymes created by the termites themselves and the output from symbionts, small protozoa that live in termite guts and aid in digestion of woody material.

"For the most part, people have overlooked the host termite as a source of enzymes that could be used in the production of biofuels. For a long time it was thought that the symbionts were solely responsible for digestion," Scharf said. "Certainly the symbionts do a lot, but what we've shown is that the host produces enzymes that work in synergy with the enzymes produced by those symbionts. When you combine the functions of the host enzymes with the symbionts, it's like one plus one equals four."
Scharf and his research partners separated the termite guts, testing portions that did and did not contain symbionts on sawdust to measure the sugars created.

Once the enzymes were identified, Scharf and his team worked with Chesapeake Perl, a protein production company in Maryland, to create synthetic versions. The genes responsible for creating the enzymes were inserted into a virus and fed to caterpillars, which then produce large amounts of the enzymes. Tests showed that the synthetic versions of the host termite enzymes also were very effective at releasing sugar from the biomass.

They found that the three synthetic enzymes function on different parts of the biomass.

Two enzymes are responsible for the release of glucose and pentose, two different sugars. The other enzyme breaks down lignin, the rigid compound that makes up plant cell walls.

Lignin is one of the most significant barriers that blocks the access to sugars contained in biomass. Scharf said it's possible that the enzymes derived from termites and their symbionts, as well as synthetic versions, could be more effective at removing that lignin barrier.

Sugars from plant material are essential to creating biofuels. Those sugars are fermented to make products such as ethanol.

"We've found a cocktail of enzymes that create sugars from wood," Scharf said. "We were also able to see for the first time that the host and the symbionts can synergistically produce these sugars."

Next, Scharf said his laboratory and collaborators would work on identifying the symbiont enzymes that could be combined with termite enzymes to release the greatest amount of sugars from woody material. Combining those enzymes would increase the amount of biofuel that should be available from biomass.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Chesapeake Perl funded the research.


 

Top news

ScottsMiracle-Gro Signs Definitive Agreement to Acquire Action Pest Control

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company announced that its subsidiary EG Systems, Inc., doing business as Scotts LawnService, has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the assets of Action Pest Control, Evansville Ind., which ranked 56th on the 2014 PCT Top 100 list, with annual revenues of $11.6 million. The transaction, which is expected to close by January 2015, would mark Scotts’ first acquisition of a structural pest control business.

WCBB Raising Funds to Help Injured Industry Professional

Trade group Wildlife Control Business Builders (WCBB) is raising funds to help ECO Wildlife Solutions' Susan Sims, who suffered serious injuries as a result of a ladder fall.

Study Examines Disease Potential of NYC's Rats

Columbia University researchers spent a year collecting 133 rats in Manhattan. They found that the specimens were carrying food-borne illnesses like salmonella, as well as fever-inducing illnesses.

NPMA Looks to the Future During PestWorld Opening Ceremony

More than 3,000 industry professionals from 80-plus countries have traveled to Orlando, Fla., for PestWorld ’14. The Opening Ceremony, sponsored by Bayer, featured musical act Rhythm Extreme.

NPMA Pinnacle Award Presented to Tom Fortson

Fortson, longtime president of Terminix Service, Columbia, S.C., was announced as recipient of the NPMA Pinnacle Award, NPMA’s highest honor.

x