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Gut-Powered Biofuels

October 6, 2014

Human gut microbes could break down grasses into sugars for biofuel production.



L. Brian Stauffer

Isaac Cann (Credit: L. Brian Stauffer)

Intestinal ethanol. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Scientists are learning to trust their gut when it comes to the search for better biofuels. Plant cells must be broken down into sugars before being converted into biofuels like ethanol. A team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they’ve identified enzymes in human gut bacteria that break down grasses more efficiently than similar enzymes in the cow.

ISAAC CANN (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign):

We found that there are enzymes in these microbes from the cow that are also present in microbes that live in the human gut, and the first one that we looked at it turned out was even more effective than the cow rumen bacteria.


Cann says a mixture of human, cow, and termite enzymes could be the ticket for turning degraded farmland into biofuel powerhouses of the future. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.