Wood Eating Gribble Isopods Help With Biofuel Conversion

Forget kraken, the Loch Ness monster, and other mythical sea beasts: for centuries, seafaring vessels were tormented by wood-devouring gribble, tiny marine isopods that bury deep into submerged timber before gobbling through it. In an ironic twist, scientists at the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre at the Universities of York and Portsmouth have demonstrated how the gribble can be beneficial to the proliferation of biofuels.

According to a BBSRC article, the gribble’s digestive system contains enzymes which could be instrumental in converting wood and straw into biofuels. The enzymes attack the polymers which comprise wood; one of the most prominent enzymes, is one which degrades cellulose, an enzyme hitherto unseen in animals. “Unlike termites and other wood-eating animals, gribble have no helpful microbes in their digestive system,” the BBSRC explains. “This means that they must possess all of the enzymes needed to convert wood into sugars themselves.”

Gribble

image via BBSRC

The BBSRC’s research page dedicated to the discovery elaborates, explaining that liquid biofuels can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass such as wood and straw, materials that contain sugar polymers that can be fermented to produce liquid biofuels. The enzymes able to digest those woody materials exist in the gribbles. “We will study the digestive process in borers and investigate industrial applications for their enzymes in biofuel production,” the page states.

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