Ability Of Goats To Digest Almost Anything Provides Cue To Producing Cheaper Biofuels

Posted: Feb 23 2016, 4:25pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Goat feeding on grass
Photo credit: Getty Images

Goats and sheep among other grass-eating animals have always confounded scientists with their abilities to digest almost anything they eat – but it has now emerged that the anaerobic fungi in the guts of these animals are what is working to help the animals breakdown plants and other substances that other animals will not touch – giving scientists further ideas for creating cheaper biofuels, the BBC writes.

In a study published in the journal Science, the scientists found that the fungi present in the stomachs of sheep and goats release specific enzymes that break down all food eaten by the animals. Harvesting the fungi to produce these enzymes would help researchers bring down the cost of biofuels, and this is what they set out to investigate.

Scientists before this time had begun to use biofuels produced from maize and other crops, but environmentalists do not like this and argue it impacts negatively on farmers while making the biofuels costlier – leading scientists to experiment with food and animal waste.

Scientists found it very difficult to use grass and wood chips for biofuel because the molecules contained within their cell walls are not too suitable, and modifying them for use requires treating them with chemicals or pre-heating, a process that adds to the cost and makes the production more complex.

This is where goats and sheep and horses and even elephants come in; their gut fungi is able to break down anything. Fungi collected from fresh manure in a zoo secreted enzymes that broke down plant cell walls and other plant materials.

Since the fungi in the stomach of goat produces hundreds of different enzymes and proteins, they tend to be excellent at breaking down most cell materials obtained from plant and wood; and the fungi changed the type of enzymes they produced when researchers switched their diet from grass to sugar.

"Because gut fungi have more tools to convert biomass to fuel, they could work faster and on a larger variety of plant material," said Prof. Michelle O'Malley, the lead author from the University of California, Santa Barbara. "That would open up many opportunities for the biofuel industry."

Another author of the paper, Prof. Michael Theodorou of Harper Adams University revealed that the research team came across hundreds of enzymes produced by anaerobic fungi which could be adapted to commercial biotechnology.

"We need to invest more resources to study this group of relatively unknown micro-organisms. They may hold the key to the renewable technology of effective biomass conversion,” Theodorou added. “Their full potential must be explored and exploited."

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.




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