Want a Better Biofuel? Grab a Termite.
May 23, 2014
Good-for-nothing termite? You may want to reconsider that accusation.
That’s because a team of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the Nevada dampwood termite, unlocking new ways to control the pesky pest – and potentially finding a game-changing new way to produce biofuels efficiently.
Currently, termites create an estimated $40 billion worth of damage and treatment costs annually. The termite genome might help identify new ways to control them, says Michael Scharf, Purdue professor of entomology who participated in the study.
"While current pesticides are very effective products, the problem is that you’re injecting large volumes of them into the soil around the house," he says. "It would be nice to move to a greener technology, and that’s what the genome sequence could enable us to do."
Even more intriguing, the study is helping researchers understand how the more than 4,000 species of bacteria that thrive in their guts work together – something the biofuel industry would be highly interested in learning more about. Specifically, the researchers hope to identify enzymes that could lead to novel ways to produce cellulosic biofuels.
"The genome provides a well-defined roadmap that could help us find the right cocktail of enzymes to break wood down into simple sugars," Scharf says. "It takes a lot of the guesswork out."