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Diesel from Fungi!

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about a fungus everywhere.

What's the deal with this fungus?

As we are turning to the future, we need to look for new ways to fund our energy demands. The November edition of the Microbiology Journal suggests one way this could be done. Professor Gary Strobel and his team publish their work on a new fungus which they name Gliocladium roseum (NRRL 50072). The special property of this fungus is that it can make diesel fuel called myco-diesel. (Myco is Latin for fungus.) It does so by breaking down cellulose which is the tough plant cell wall we use for everyday products like paper. Breaking down cellulose normally requires many toxic chemicals and a lot of energy. Therefore, it is quite remarkable that the fungus can make diesel without the need for toxic chemicals. This discovery is important because, in the future, we could use these fungi or the parts of it to make diesel without the need for oil.

Why does a fungus want to produce diesel?

Gliocladium roseum was isolated from the rainforests of the Patagonia region in South America. The moist, and warm conditions in the rain forests do not only promote dense growth and diversity, it also habours many infectious diseases. G. roeum is an endophyte which means that this fungus grows within its host plant Eucryphia cordifolia (ulmo).
Interestingly, it seems to do so without killing the plant. The researchers therefore hypothesize that, in fact, the relationship that this fungus has with its host plants is beneficial to both organisms (symbiotic): While the plant gives physical protection from the environment, the fungus helps the plant by producing these diesel components, which turn out to have anti-microbial properties. For those interested, among the many hydrocarbons this organisms produce are undecane, 2,6-dimethyl; decane, 3,3,5-trimethyl; cyclohexene, 4-methyl; decane, 3,3,6-trimethyl; and undecane, 4,4-dimethyl.


My Argument for Conservation

Apart from the ethical, and environmental reasons for preserving the environment, bioprospecting is the keyword. Prospecting is the act of finding something that will be beneficial or successful. Back in the colonial days, many prospectors went West to discover new rich lands. In the same sense bioprospecting is the act of looking to nature to find solutions to problems we have. Often times, we don't know how a given plant or organism would be useful right away, and this is why we catalog them. But it is ultimately through bioprospecting that some of the anti-cancer medicine we now use are found.
The recent discovery of Gliocladium roseum is the result of bioprospecting. Many future unknown benefits wait to be discovered. This is the dilemna we are facing right now throughout the world. Many of these habitats are in danger of being destroyed by the effects of humanity. Many areas are burned down for agriculture or for real estate. In the process, a lot of diversity that could hold the answer to many of our questions get destroyed without us even knowing.
I recently watched a CNN documentary special with Anderson Cooper called "Planet in Peril". It seems if people can be convinced that the natural habitat represents a valuable, renewable resource by discovering the use for some of these plants or organisms, a strong economic argument exists for preserving as many of our precious natural resources as possible while trying to learn how things are done the natural way. Watching the documentary, I gained a whole new appreciation for people who promote conservation efforts while working with the local population. I really recommend everyone to watch the documentary. This kind of work is tough! Therefore, I would encourage everyone to support any of those workers in any small way you can.

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