Fill your gas tank with fungus fuel? It sounds far-fetched, but it could be a promising alternative to fossil fuel. A Montana State University professor has found a fungus from the Patagonia rainforest that produces a new type of diesel fuel. Other simple organisms such as algae have been known to make chemicals similar to hydrocarbons in transport fuel, but this fungus could do even better than that.
Emeritus plant pathologist Gary Strobel, who 15 years ago discovered the fungus that contained the anticancer drug Taxol, found that this new discovery, called Gliocladium roseum, is capable of producing gases. Further testing of the fungus revealed a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel, which is obtained from crude oil. The initial observations of the fungus' output, which Prof. Strobel calls â€œmyco-dieselâ€ were published in this month's issue of Microbiology. The abstract can be read here.
The gas composition of G. roseum included hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives. A spoonful of the stuff could run a diesel engine with further refining or modifications to it. â€œThe results were totally unexpected and very exciting,â€ says Prof. Strobel. â€œAlmost every hair on my arms stood on end.â€
Prof. Strobel travels the world looking for plants that may contain beneficial microbes and first collected a variety of specimens, including the G. roseum, from the Patagonia rainforest in 2002. He kept the G. roseum in storage until last year when he finally had time to work on it. While he hopes that myco-diesel could be an option for those seeking alternatives to other biofuels like ethanol, the big question remains of whether the microbe can be scaled up to commercial levels.
The findings have led Strobel to even speculate that organisms such as G. roseum may be responsible for the worldâ€™s crude oil deposits. This is quite a departure from the traditional theory â€“ that oil is only produced when decaying organic matter is subjected to pressure and millions of years. An intriguing possibility, but for the time being scientists have their hands full trying to figure out how to turn these volatile, oily vapors into biofuel.
written by Patrick Dugan, November 05, 2008
written by Marcos Carot Collins, November 05, 2008
written by erichansa, November 06, 2008
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