Somehow termites convert to wood into energy to power their festering hordes, and now a group of scientists and engineers–representing a consortium of government and corporate institutes–intends to learn how humans can do the same to power our Ipods. The November 22nd issue of the science journal Nature discusses this new, novel approach to producing biofuels.

Ok, ok, so power plants of the mid-2000s might not be filled to the brim with writhing piles of termites as implied by the title of this article, but it’s still kind of interesting. Really, the scientists are hoping to break down the wood-digesting microbes inside of termite’s stomachs, and sequence their genomes.

i-cc01e0b83bc6d8b397e3209e07d41b10-Termite Swarm.jpg
The termite lobby will soon have our government in the palm of its hand

Says Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy in this article, “Industrial-scale DNA sequencing…was key to identifying the genetic structures that comprise the tools that termites use. Our task now is to discover the metabolic pathways generated by these structures to figure out how nature digests plant materials. We can then synthesize the novel enzymes discovered through this project to accelerate the delivery of the next generation of cellulosic biofuels.” He added, “Does that make you hot?”

Despite the fact that that guy is a TOTAL PERV, it is a cool idea, albeit probably pretty far away from actual commercial viability.


  1. #1 Ben M
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve always wondered whether there was any chance to bypass the “synthesize the enzymes” step, and to [I]actually[/I] have huge piles of termites, voraciously eating cellulose and … oh, I don’t know, farting out methane, or weeping glucose, or simply excreting some non-cellulose material that can be to yeast or something.

    It’d be like a biogas digester, but with termites.

  2. #2 milkshake
    November 29, 2007

    what so perv about it? (“I like termites. I like to touch them. Feeling the crawling termites rubbing against my fingers is almost orgasmic”. etc)

    There was a story about a decade ago – about a lab studying cellulose-digesting bacteria (with effort to use them for transforming cellulose to energy source) and reportedly couple of people in the lab got rather sick from it and one postdoc died because tha bacteria liked to colonise human gut also. The lab abadoned the prorgram and destroyed the virulent (= aslo the most productive strain) and that was end of it.

  3. #3 popitkick
    December 6, 2008


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