07 October 2008

Shipworms and sustainable biofuel

Shipworms are the marine equivalent of termites and considered pests on wooden structures that are submerged in the sea. A relative of the clam, these animals burrow into and eat the wood. Bacteria inside their gills produce enzymes to help them digest wood.

Studying this bacteria may may allow economical conversion of plant biomass (i.e., non-food plants and wood wastes) into cellulosic ethanol, one of the holy grails in the quest for sustainable biofuels.

Shipworms will be one of the areas of focus of scientists in a $4million project to study Philippines marine molluscs for medical and biofuel applications. Molluscs are among the most diverse of marine animals and the Philippines has about 10,000 marine mollusc species, or about a fifth of all the known species.

The scientists will catalogue the species and make this information freely available on the Internet.

Another focus is bacteria isolated from gastropod molluscs, or snails, particularly the highly venomous cone snails. It is believed 700 compounds with potential medical uses can be found in each cone snail species.

Tbe grant is designed to ensure that the communities where the biological resources are found can benefit. At the same time, promoting scientific capacity and economic incentives for conservation and sustainable harvesting.

An estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of currently used drugs originate in natural products.

The full article "Discovering drugs, biofuels in tropical seas" is on EurekAlert 7 Oct 08;

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