Termites, the most flatulent animals on the planet, hold promise for growing the biofuels industry. The termites’ digestive microbes and enzymes hold great promise according to the U. S. Department of Energy for breaking down wood and waste biomass to generate cellulosic biofuels.
Termites can mow down a massive amount of wood in a very short time and process it through their digestive tracks. Researchers are looking to synthesize the enzymes and accelerate the process to create fuels such as ethanol.
The process is becoming more clear as scientists are putting together the genome puzzle and creating a metabolic profile for the termite digestion process. In the rainforests of Costa Rica, researchers followed a gut feeling and found termites of the genus Nasutitermes that were particularly adept and chomping down trees quickly and effectively.
The upside of this kind of research is that corn (and its market fluctuations) will not be needed as the source for this process. Wood chips, switch grass and other waste plants can be used instead. Like all cutting-edge science, however, scaling up the process to mass produce biofuels will be a hurdle, but one that scientists are confident that they can overcome.
So, the next time you see termites chomping down your house, pause to think that these little creatures may one day help to fuel your car as well.