Bacteria in Panda Poop Could Lead to a Biofuel Breakthrough

Bacteria discovered in panda poo may hold the key to making biofuel from otherwise useless biomass.

The problem biofuel makers keep running into is how to break down the tough fibrous cellulose that gives plants their rigidity. Biofuels like ethanol need to break down biomass from plants like corn and sugar cane (which are already high in sugar content) into simple sugars, which can be refined into fuel. But there’s a very limited selection of plants that can be properly (and profitably) processed into sugars, and they require a lot of heat, energy, and time to produce.

The bacteria in pandas’ small intestines could change that though. Because panda bears basically feast only on bamboo, their digestive system is remarkably adept at breaking down that fibrous cellulose thanks to a super enzyme that streamlines the process. Scientists from the American Chemical Society estimate that the bacteria could convert 95% of biomass into simple sugars without the need for high-energy, high-heat catalysts currently used in biofuel production.

In otherwise, simple bacteria from droppings of one of the rarest animals in the world could hold the key to cheap, usable biofuels that may save mankind from itself. Does anyone else feel the overwhelming irony?

Source: Eureka Alert via Treehugger

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.