06. July 2011
It is a safe bet to assume that nobody likes termites. These ant like creatures are one of the worst forms of household pests because they live on a diet of wood, which means all the precious furniture will no longer look that precious and since they multiply very rapidly, it can cost the household a lot of money in repairing them or getting new ones. Besides that, not only do they make the house completely unfit for raising children but they are actually one of the biggest contributors to global warming, along with humans. But it will not be a good idea to stomp a household termite after all because a new study from the Purdue university suggest that the termite body structure may actually rid the world of its Biofuel problem!.
Mike Scharf, who played a key role in this project, and his team of scientists observed that the tiny belly of a termite holds a complex mixture of enzymes and chemicals which helps it to digest wood. These enzymes are not the only agents that help in digestion as the scientists even discovered a group of protozan symbiont , who incubate in the gut of the termite. Realizing that these enzymes and the symbiont could digest the biomass of wood with stunning efficiency, they decided to experiment further.
Scharf and his team took several termites and divided their guts into separate portions, where some portions were full of the symbiont and the others were not. The group of researchers used the symbiont to check its chemical reaction towards sawdust the reaction ended up with organic sugar. Scharf and his team then collaborated with a Maryland based energy firm,Chesapeake Perl , to create a synthetic version of the result. This version was then mixed with a virus and fed to caterpillars, who created more enzymes as a result.
The scientists discovered that as far as the biomass is concerned, there where three types of enzymes that played a role in extracting the sugar from it. Two of those enzymes were responsible for the release of two sugar byproducts, glucose and pentose, while the third one reduced the amount of lignin, which would make the sugars in the biomass, more accessible. So the bottom line here is that the enzymes, which was created by the symbiont in the termite gut was responsible in the complete conversion of a plant biomass, like wood, into sugar thus creating biofuels.
So the scientists realized that by combining the enzymes found in the termite belly and the enzymes produced by the symbiont, they can create a biofuel, very efficiently. This study is still not fully completed as the researchers have still a lot of testing to do. But if it turns out that we can produce biofuels with the help of termites, producing biofuels will never be more cheaper and easier.