Using a Fungus to Make Fuel

Aug. 21, 2008
The same fungus that plagued soldiers in World War II as it ate their tents and uniforms is now leading engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory to a new method for turning plants into ethanol.

The fungus, trichoderma reesei, creates enzymes that break down fibers into the simplest form of sugar. The fungus then digests the sugar as food. Researchers at Los Alamos hope the fungus’ enzyme could be refined and used on an industrial scale to transform cellulose pulp and other materials into sugar, which can then be fermented by yeast into ethanol. To do so, they are sequencing the fungus’ DNA, hoping to learn how the creature can break down cellulose so efficiently, and then improve that process.

In this microscope image of the fungus trichoderma reesei, proteins are stained red, and white chitin, a component of the cell walls, is stained blue.

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