'The trouble with gribbles' may actually be a boon for biofuel industry


March 10, 2010

"Silly Earthlings, your puny docks are no match for our mighty digestive enzymes" - A gribble poses for a mugshot

"Silly Earthlings, your puny docks are no match for our mighty digestive enzymes" - A gribble poses for a mugshot

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Just what, you may ask, is a gribble? It’s a tiny marine isopod, and it eats wood. For centuries, they destroyed wooden ships. Today, they continue to munch away on docks and piers. Unlike creatures such as termites, however, gribbles have no helpful microbes in their digestive system to help them digest wood - they themselves possess the enzymes necessary for converting it to sugar. British researchers are now suggesting that what works for the gribbles could also work for converting wood waste and straw into liquid biofuels.

The research was conducted by scientists at the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Center at the Universities of York and Portsmouth. They came to their conclusions by examining genes found in the guts of the gribbles. The isopods’ digestive tracts, they discovered, are dominated by enzymes that attack the polymers that make up wood. One of the most abundant enzymes has never before seen cellulose-degrading properties.

The researchers at York are now trying to determine just how the enzymes work, and whether they can be adapted to industrial applications. "The world needs to quickly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels” said Duncan Eggar, BBSRC Bioenergy Champion. “Sustainably produced bioenergy offers the potential to rapidly introduce liquid transport fuels into our current energy mix."

The research was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. All images are courtesy Dr Simon Cragg/Graham Malyon - Institute of Marine Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth, UK.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Cellulose degrading enzymes! Can this make diverse feedstock system possible?

bio-power jeff

Check your information. Enzymes are not living beings. They are molecules. No one can even see a molecule because they are the very build blocks of everything. Molecules that are called enzymes are very important to life itself. We don\'t want to confuse them with the cartoons used in soap commercials.


how fricken cute are they?!


one thing\' s shure, they\' ll never make it in the pet industry.

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