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Termites' digestive system could act as biofuel refinery
Date:7/5/2011

p>They found that the three synthetic enzymes function on different parts of the biomass.

Two enzymes are responsible for the release of glucose and pentose, two different sugars. The other enzyme breaks down lignin, the rigid compound that makes up plant cell walls.

Lignin is one of the most significant barriers that blocks the access to sugars contained in biomass. Scharf said it's possible that the enzymes derived from termites and their symbionts, as well as synthetic versions, could be more effective at removing that lignin barrier.

Sugars from plant material are essential to creating biofuels. Those sugars are fermented to make products such as ethanol.

"We've found a cocktail of enzymes that create sugars from wood," Scharf said. "We were also able to see for the first time that the host and the symbionts can synergistically produce these sugars."

Next, Scharf said his laboratory and collaborators would work on identifying the symbiont enzymes that could be combined with termite enzymes to release the greatest amount of sugars from woody material. Combining those enzymes would increase the amount of biofuel that should be available from biomass.


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Contact: Brian Wallheimer
bwallhei@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
Source:Eurekalert  

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Termites' digestive system could act as biofuel refinery
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