Michael Dwyer/AP

New Tree Fungus Could Be Source of Diesel Fuel

November 07, 2008 01:33 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A fungus found on trees in the Patagonian rainforest has been found to produce, in certain conditions, the compounds found in diesel fuel.

Scientists Discover New Fungus

A new fungus could become the newest alternative fuel source.

The fungus Gliocladium roseum has been found to produce midlength hydrocarbons found in gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel, according to a study published in the current issue of Microbiology.

“These are the first organisms that have been found that make many of the ingredients of diesel,” said Montana State University plant pathologist Gary Strobel, who led the research, to Environment News Service. “This is a major discovery.”
The fungus may in the future help companies convert chemical energy from plants into liquid fuels that could eventually replace fossil fuels, reports ScienceNOW. G. roseum, which was discovered in the cells of a stem from an Ulmo tree (Eucryphia cordifolia) in the Patagonia region in South America, produces only a small amount of the hydrocarbons under limited oxygen conditions, but researchers hope to use it to engineer other microbes that will work more efficiently.

Strobel says that after he and his colleagues collected and identified the gaseous compounds produced by the fungus, “every hair on my body stood up.” The compounds included common diesel fuel components octane, 1-octeme, heptane, 2-methyl, and hexadecane. Although there are other microbes that produce similar hydrocarbons, “no one has ever observed anything like this with any microbe before,” Strobel says.

Strobel, who travels across the globe looking for new plants that contain beneficial microbes, in 1997 discovered a fungus in Honduras that produces antibiotics and is now used to preserve fruit during shipping. In 1993, he found a fungus that contained the anticancer drug taxol.

Background: Alternative fuels

Myco-diesel is just the latest entry into the alternative fuels race. The high price of gasoline and concern over the environment is driving interest in cheaper and greener energy sources.

Alternative fuels have been proliferating in recent years. Ethanol, propane, hydrogen, electricity and methanol, which are considered standard alternative fuels by the U.S. Department of Energy, are fueling more and more vehicles. Other fuels in development include coals to liquids (CTL), gas to liquids (GTL), biobutanol and ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD).

Nonstandard fuels have come so far that it is now possible for people to make their own at home. In May, the E-Fuel corporation unveiled the MicroFueler device, which turns sugar, yeast and water, or even leftover booze, into ethanol. Some eco-friendly fuel enthusiasts have even taken to stealing used restaurant grease to convert into biodiesel.

Related Topics: The bad news about fungi

In recent months, fungi have not always brought good tidings. Just days ago it was reported that a fungus called Geomyces may be the culprit behind a bat epidemic that has killed more than 100,000 of the creatures in the northeastern United States. “So essentially these bats are hanging on the cave ceiling almost like a piece of food that you’ve forgotten about in your refrigerator and for whatever reason now they’re getting mold,” microbiologist David Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey said to LiveScience.

In June, it was discovered that a deadly fungus was damaging banana crops, threatening the global banana supply.

And in January, scientists posited that the parasitic fungus “amphibian chytrid” was responsible for the widespread deaths of frogs.

Reference: Myco-diesel


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