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article imageWood-eating gribble helps to produce biofuel

By Tim Sandle     Jun 7, 2013 in Science
Tiny marine wood-borers called 'gribbles' contain an enzyme which could be used to turn paper, scrap wood and straw into a liquid biofuel.
Gribbles are perhaps most widely known as tiny creatures which, over time, can destroy wooden seaside piers. However the creatures could possibly be known for something else: biofuel production.
There are over fifty different species of gribble. They are mostly pale white and small (0.04–0.16 inch long) crustaceans. Gribbles bore into wood and plant material for ingestion as food. Here, gribbles play an ecologically important role, by helping to degrade and recycle driftwood.
An enzyme that the gribble contains could act as a catalyst for biofuel production. The enzyme is cellulose, a protein chemical that converts cellulose into glucose. The enzyme, unlike those previously identified, can function in conditions seven times saltier than sea water.
There are many different ways to produce[url=http:// http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/biofuel-profile/ t=_blank] biofuels and the search for the optimal way is seen as a ‘golden ticket’ in much chemical research. With the application of an enzyme, polysaccharides (sugar polymers) that make up the bulk of wood and paper have to be broken down into simple sugars. These are then fermented to produce liquid biofuels.
The enzyme was identified through a combination of biochemical analysis and X-ray imaging techniques. The enzyme, if it turns out to be suitable, is unlikely to be produced directly from gribbles. It is more likely that the enzyme will be genetically engineered through bacteria.
Further research will be required to see if the enzyme can be utilized on an industrial scale to create sustainable liquid biofuels.
The research was carried out by a consortium from the University of York, University of Portsmouth and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the USA. The findings have been published in the journal PNAS.
More about Biofuels, gribble, Worm, Wood, Cellulose
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