Wednesday, 10 March 2010

‘Gribble’ marine pest may be key to biofuel breakthrough, say scientists

Home staff

A marine pest could be the key to a biofuel breakthrough, say scientists. Gribble, which resemble pink woodlice, plagued seafarers for centuries by boring through the planks of ships and destroying wooden piers.
But now environmental scientists are taking a keen interest in the crustaceans.
A team of British researchers has learnt that gribble have a gift for digesting wood not seen in any other animal.
Enzymes produced by the tiny creatures are able to break down woody cellulose and turn it into energy-rich sugars meaning that gribble could convert wood and straw into liquid biofuel.

A gribble-like processing plant could make sugars from woody raw material that can be fermented into alcohol-based fuels for vehicle engines.
Researchers at the universities of York and Portsmouth made the discovery after carrying out an extensive study of digestive genes from the gribble species Limnoria quadripunctata.
They found the crustacean’s long digestive tract is dominated by enzymes that attack cellulose and lignin, the normally indigestible material in woody plant tissue.
The results of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was made possible by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, a £26 million network of expert groups looking at bioenergy.
Duncan Eggar, the BBSRC’s Bioenergy Champion, said: “The world needs to quickly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and sustainably produced bioenergy offers the potential to rapidly introduce liquid transport fuels into our current energy mix.”