Termites: Termites may hold key to cellulosic ethanol

Nov 12, 2009 9:25 AM, By Stu Hutson, University of Florida

The article ‘Termites may hold key to cellulosic ethanol’ mentions the importance of understanding the genes that are involved in digesting woods which are ingested by termites. Termites are destructive pest that eats woods and have caused more than $1 billion damage each year to the US. However, these same creatures are an important model systems to understand the nature by which they break down the problematic plant compound: lignocellulose. The lignocellulose is very hard to break down and would require intense heat or caustic chemicals to break it down which is energetically costly. While the termite can break the lignocellulose in its gut with simple digestion, scientists are studying its genome and are trying to identify the specific genes involved in this digestion process. So far, the team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have identified nearly 200 associated enzymes that are involved in the lignocellulose digest. The goal is to insert these genes into a controllable creature such as a bateria, fungi or caterpillar which can then produce such enzymes on a large industrial scale so that they can digest lignocellulose to produce ethanol. I think this is a great alternative way to make ethanol. However, the main problem lies in identify the specific genes out of the 200 ones filtered so far. It will probably be a long quest but when reached, it may solve the energy problem that the world is facing today.

The link to the article can be found at :

http://southeastfarmpress.com/biofuels/biofuel-production-1112/

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