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Panda poop may help in the making of biofuels

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - 14:15

Washington: Scientists have revealed that Panda poop contains bacteria, which could break down plant material in the way needed to tap biomass as a major new source of “biofuels”, from grass, wood chips and crop wastes.

“Who would have guessed that ‘panda poop’ might help solve one of the major hurdles to producing biofuels, which is optimising the breakdown of the raw plant materials used to make the fuels?” said study co-author Ashli Brown, Ph.D, from Mississippi State University.

“We hope our research will help expand the use of biofuels in the future and help cut dependency on foreign oil. We also hope it will reinforce the importance of wildlife conservation,” he said.

Brown pointed out that bacteria from the giant panda are particularly promising for breaking down the super-tough plant material known as lignocellulose in switch grass, corn stalks and wood chips.

That advance could speed the development of so-called cellulosic biofuels made from these tough plant materials in a way that doesn’t rely on precious food crops such as corn, soybeans and sugar now used for making biofuels, she noted.

Brown and colleagues, including graduate student Candace Williams, collected and analysed the fresh faeces of a pair of male and female pandas at the Memphis Zoo for over a year.

They identified several types of digestive bacteria in the panda faeces, including some that are similar to those found in termites, which are renowned for their ability to digest wood.

“Our studies suggest that bacteria species in the panda intestine may be more efficient at breaking down plant materials than termite bacteria and may do so in a way that is better for biofuel manufacturing purposes,” said Brown.

The study was reported at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).


First Published: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - 14:15
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