Scientists Reveal How Farm Animals’ Guts Easily Breakdown Biomass

Scientists have revealed that fungi present in the guts of horses, goats and sheep are an excellent tool to disintegrate biomass for production of energy. The performance of these anaerobic gut fungi is equivalent to that of the best fungi whose abilities are modified to transform plant materials into sugars, which in turn can be conveniently converted into fuel and other products.

According to the lead author of the study, Michelle O’Malley, a chemical engineering professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, these fungi naturally contain the world’s largest stock of enzymes that can disintegrate biomass.

The tough plant material is disintegrated by these enzymes, which are made of protein, as they work in coordination to finish the task. The fungi settle in their enzymes in wood, grass, agricultural waste or any other material. The outcome of the research revealed that if these gut fungi are industrially modified for better enzyme production, they are likely to surpass the performance of the best existing ones. This will eventually result in more economical biofuels and bio-based products.

For the study, O’Malley established a partnership between two user plants of US Department of Energy Office of Science (SC), the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the DOE Joint Genome Institute.

The partnership, named Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science (FICUS), will enable scientists to utilize the capabilities of both the user facilities for establishing a holistic preview of elementary scientific questions. Scientists from PNNL, DOE JGI, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Harper Adams University were a part of the research team.

“By tapping the RNA sequencing and protein characterization capabilities at the respective facilities, we have advanced biofuel research in ways not otherwise possible,” said Susannah Tringe, DOE JGI Deputy for User Programs. Hyphae excrete proteins (enzymes) in fungi disintegrate biomass and a more diversified enzyme collection improves the disintegration ability.

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