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Researchers have discovered unexpected potential in the feces of giant pandas as scientists seek alternatives to producing biofuels from corn and other food crops.
Panda feces reportedly produces microbes that can be used to efficiently turn plant waste into biofuel.
A group of scientists have revealed that more than 40 microbes taking up residence in the stomachs of giant pandas have been identified as potential biofuel production engines.
The research is being led by Mississippi State University biochemist Ashli Brown, who is hoping that the discovery will help pioneer better sources of ethanol.
Like most new discoveries, however, making it commercial viable is the big challenge. Brown and other scientists are looking for bacteria that are highly efficient in breaking down lignocellulose and freeing up the material that can be fermented into ethanol. Bacteria in giant panda digestive tracts are prime candidates.
The research shows that not only do pandas digest a diet of bamboo, but have a short digestive tract that requires bacteria with unusually potent enzymes for breaking down lignocellulose.
"These microbes may be very well suited to break down this biomass," said co-researcher Candace Williams. "That's what they are doing in the gut of the panda with all of the bamboo the animal eats."
Here, though, the specter of climate change once again looms large, as pandas could become endangered, with experts forecasting that their main habitats could cease to exist in fewer than 80 years.
Climate change is set to wipe out much of the bamboo on which pandas rely on food. Pandas prime habitat in China could be destroyed by end of the century.
Climate change aside, there are other questions surrounding the feasibility of Giant Panda feces in biofuels production. After all, there are only 1,600 pandas currently remaining in the wild, and from a strategic standpoint, they could not provide enough material to have any significant effect on biofuels production.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com