Fueling all of the world’s machines takes a lot of energy. You need fuel for your car, factories need fuel for their machines, and it seems like everybody on earth needs fuel for something important. Fuel is what makes the world go around. But fuel is finite, and damaging to the environment, and that is why we have biofuels. Biofuels use organic matter, like plant matter, to generate energy. Imagine using the grass in your yard to fuel your car. One example of a type of biofuel that people use everyday is ethanol. Ethanol breaks down corn to create fuel to power people’s automobiles. However, biofuel is not the perfect answer as there are a few problems concerning the breakdown of plant matter. However, researchers have found that termites could be the solution.
In order to create biofuel out of plant matter, plant material must be broken down. One problem with this process is a material that is known as lignin. Lignin is a tough and fibrous material that is found inside of plants. Basically, lignin is a plant’s internal structure. Lignin also forms the structure that carries water throughout the plant. Lignin poses a problem for the biofuel industry because lignin cannot be broken down easily on account of its toughness. After a plant dies, the lignin inside slowly breaks down over time, releasing the nutrients into the soil progressively.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison have discovered powerful enzymes within the digestive tract of termites. These enzymes are extremely corrosive, and they could work to successfully break down lignin so that it becomes useful for creating an alternate source of fuel. Obviously, the reason why termites have such strong stomach enzymes is because they have to break down wood. Therefore, termites have experience breaking down lignin first hand. That is pretty logical I guess. I wonder how nobody thought of that before?
Do you believe that termites are more useful than most people make them out to be? What do you think makes termites useful to people?