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Today is Sunday, September 23, 2018

Gobbling Gribble May Hold The Key To Biofuel

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It is said that it is an ill wind that does no one any good.

For centuries in the bygone days when ships were made of wood and men of steel, gribbles were hard at work munching their way into wooden hulls and shore side piers.

Gribbles are Limnoria - a genus of isopods from the Limoriidae family - and are marine crustacean bearing 7 pairs of legs (isopod). They measure between 1 4 mm in length, although those in the Antarctic regions can grow to around 10mm.

The havoc gribbles wreaked on ships and piers is well known. They were the scourge of seafarers who on making their acquaintance had to renew infected hull planking, or risk sinking.

Up till now, this good-for-nothing pest has been just that. However, it may well prove to hold the secret to creating biofuel. Scientists at the UKs Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Sustainable Bioenergy Centre at York and Portsmouth universities have made an incredible discovery concerning the dreaded gribbles digestive system.

The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre is a 26 million investment that increases UK bioenergy research capacity.

Unlike any other creatures, the tough gribble does not need the assistance of friendly microbes to promote digestion. This ability, never before seen in any other animals, including cows and termites, has now brought the gribble to the centre stage of biofuel research.

Examination and study of the digestive genes of Limnoria quadripunctata (four spotted gribble) revealed that its gut oozes with enzymes that break down normally indigestible cellulose polymers in wood and other fibrous plants and covert them into sugars, rich in energy.

Professors Simon McQueen-Mason and Professor Neil Bruce at York, and Dr Simon Cragg at Portsmouth are leading the research teams are now trying to figure out how this works in order to perfect an industrial process to replicate the gribbles digestion capabilities that will break down wood and other fibrous materials into sugar that can be fermented into alcohol based fuels.

May be the day will dawn when ships bunker tanks will be kept filled with wood or straw to feed voracious bioengineered gribbles producing sugars that are converted on board into eco friendly fuel shiver me timbers!

(The author is an ex-mariner and can be contacted at j.nicoll@newslinkservices.com)

Jim Nicoll
j.nicoll@newslinkservices.com

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