Michelle O'Malley, a chemical engineer at UC Santa Barbra is conducting research into the the potential to use microbes found animals' guts to enable the discovery of new sustainable fuels.
Cows and other large herbivores that evolved to graze on grasses and other woody forage have the ability to “unlock” the energy contained in plant cellulose and convert it to sugar.
O’Malley’s research aims to unlock the microbes’ biodegradation secrets, so people could, for example, turn corn stalks, grass, and other agricultural waste into energy.
By understanding and cultivating the microbes that these animals have in their digestive systems, similar processes could be used to create fuels and chemicals from agricultural waste rather than from fossil fuels.
Once a year or so, the scientist or one of her students drive to the Santa Barbara Zoo to grab samples of manure from goats, sheep, or other grazing animals.
These bundles contain fungal colonies and other microbes that digested grasses in the herbivore's gut.
By isolating and studying these grass-digesting microbes, O'Malley is discovering how they break grasses into sugars, and the results are enabling new bioengineering approaches to biofuel
In the video below O'Malley discusses her work to do just that in this video from UC Santa Barbara's ongoing "Research in 60 Seconds" series.
The extended version of the video is available below
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