Secret Site Map
Friday, May 22, 2015

Home News Termites’ Gut Reactions Show How to Improve Renewable Fuel, UF Researchers Say

Termites’ Gut Reactions Show How to Improve Renewable Fuel, UF Researchers Say

Termite Control

Researchers are beginning to harness the insects’ ability to churn wood into fuel.

University of Florida | November 4, 2009


GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Termite damage costs the U.S. more than $1 billion each year, but that same destructive power might help solve one of the nation’s most pressing economic quandaries: sustainable fuel production.
 
After years of genetic sequencing, University of Florida researchers are beginning to harness the insects’ ability to churn wood into fuel. That ability involves a mixture of enzymes from symbiotic bacteria and other single-celled organisms living in termites’ guts, as well as enzymes from the termites themselves.
 
The team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences spent two years dissecting and analyzing gene sequences of more than 2,500 worker termite guts. In total, they identified 6,555 genes from the termites and associated gut fauna involved in the digestive process.
 
As the researchers reported Oct. 15 in the online journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, they’ve begun to identify which of these genes encode for enzymes that could significantly improve the production of cellulosic ethanol, a fuel made from inedible plant material that the U.S. Department of Energy estimates could replace half of our gasoline if the production process could be made more cost effective.
 
“Termites are very unique creatures, and this research helps give the most complete picture of how their systems collaborate to, very efficiently, break down really tough biological compounds to release fermentable sugars,” said UF entomologist Mike Scharf, who leads the research. 
 
The team has identified nearly 200 associated enzymes that help break down the problematic plant compound lignocellulose. This compound is the most costly barrier to wide-scale production of cellulosic ethanol because it must be broken down by intense heat or caustic chemicals.
 
Termites, however, are able to almost completely break down lignocellulose through simple digestion.
 
“The termite gut is a complicated and exotic package of biodiversity that manages these tasks with an efficiency that you really have to admire,” said Claudia Husseneder, a specialist in the molecular biology of termites at Louisiana State University who was not associated with UF’s research. “Mike’s work is on the cutting edge of understanding this system.”
 
In September, Scharf and the Savage, Maryland-based Chesapeake-PERL Inc.,  received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help develop his work into a product that can be used to help manufacture cellulosic ethanol.
 
Termites and their associated single-cell symbiotic organisms probably won’t have much to do with the processes that result from the work—except for their genes, of course. Scharf said that enzyme-producing genes will be transferred to a more controllable creature.
 
This has commonly meant that the genes would be transferred into genetically modified fungi or bacteria. However, Scharf said the genes would likely be transferred into other insects, such as caterpillars, to produce the enzymes on an industrial scale.
 
“Insects have played an important role in how this planet functions for millions of years,” Scharf said. “They still have a lot they can teach us. There are still many ways we can learn to benefit from Earth’s six-legged inhabitants.”
 
 

Top news

Fastest Growing U.S. Cities in West And South, Census Bureau Reports

Most cities with populations above 100,000 in those regions grew significantly between 2000 and 2010, and 2010 and 2013, according to the bureau's report, which was released last week.

NPMA Announces Search for Next CEO

The National Pest Management Association is recruiting qualified individuals interested in serving as the association’s next CEO.

New Bee Survey Released

Losses of managed honey bee colonies were 23.1 percent for the 2014-2015 winter but summer losses exceeded winter numbers for the first time, making annual losses for the year 42.1 percent, according to preliminary results of the annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Cockroach Allergens May Increase Glaucoma Risk, Researchers Report

Allergens from cats and cockroaches may have biochemical or physical properties that trigger antibodies targeting the optic nerve, according to a new sturdy.

Terminix Announces Top Mosquito Cities Based on Twitter Complaints

According to research by Terminix, the worst whining about mosquitoes came from Goodland, a small town in the northwest corner of Kansas. Terminix searched through approximately 200 billion tweets posted in 2014 to determine which United States city is most pestered by mosquitoes.

x