Summary: Scientists are working to discover how termites process the cellulose they eat in the hopes of learning how to use it to produce bio fuels like biodiesel.
,Termites do billions of dollars worth of damage to homes each year, but termites might teach us something that is much more valuable than the damages they do
The Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute is conducting research on the microbes found in termite stomachs. These microbes create enzymes that break down woody polymers into sugar that can be used for energy. Scientists suggest that these sugars can be refined into valuable bio fuels like ethanol.
Research has shown that several different kinds of microbes inside termites work together to help the termite digest cellulose found in wood and other plants. The scientists are working on isolating, identifying, and characterizing the genetic material they find in termite stomachs. They hope that by studying the small microbes they will learn the metabolic pathways that convert bio-mass like wood, into sugar that can be fermented and turned into bio fuels such as biodiesel.
Although the technology that would be needed to scale up the termite's process of digestion to a level that would be useful for human biodiesel production will not be available in the foreseeable future, the Department of Energy plans to spend up to $375 billion in three new Bio-energy research centers to accelerate this study.
Kind of ironic, isn't it! We've been fighting termites for decades to save our homes only to find out these same termites may save us from ruining our planet.