Could barnyard animals provide a key to greener energy? Scientists have found that the anaerobic gut fungi in goats, sheep, and horses produce a diverse and flexible set of enzymes that can break down a wide range of tough plant materials.
Published in the leading academic journal Science, the research found that the fungi resident within the guts of goats performed as well as the best-engineered enzymes from industry in digesting biomass. The process produces sugars, which are the precursors to fuel.
First generation biofuels, produced from arable crops like corn, are widely viewed as unsustainable. They use food crops that could be used to feed people, threaten biodiversity, and do not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions when a full life-cycle assessment is performed.
Second generation biofuels, by contrast, use non-food feedstocks like wood, algae, and grasses, as a feedstock. However, the lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose found in such plants is very difficult to break down. In order to deal with this, industry often pre-treats the biomass with heat or chemicals, or simply discards it. This increases waste, expends additional energy, and is more expensive.
By harnessing the enzymes found in animals like goats, industry may be able to use biological methods to more cheaply and efficiently break down lignocellulosic biomass and convert it into more sustainable biofuel.
Editor: Jacob Park
Image Credit: Pixabay / StockSnap