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Novel fungus helps beetles to digest hard wood
Date:8/18/2008

ble to selectively target just those bacteria to impair the growth of Asian longhorned beetles, which have the potential to severely damage the lumber and maple syrup industry.

Both Geib and Hoover, who study Asian longhorned beetles, believe they may have stumbled upon a novel evolutionary adaptation in the insect world.

"This type of fungus [in the Asian longhorned beetle] is known to cause disease in plants," said Hoover, whose work is funded by the Alphawood Foundation and the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. "But this particular strain appears to be unique. It looks like these insects somehow acquired the fungus to live in their gut and help them break down wood."

She also points out that these fungi are more efficient than their free-ranging counterparts. While those fungi take months, even years, to break down wood, the gut-borne fungi seem to do it much faster.

Researchers say the speedy process could potentially be harnessed to produce biofuel.

"Getting rid of the lignin barrier and making the cellulose more accessible is the most expensive and environmentally unfriendly part of making ethanol from biomass," said Geib. The team's discovery, he added, could lead to the potential development of cheaper and more efficient enzymes for converting wood into ethanol.


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Contact: Amitabh Avasthi
axa47@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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