One of the major obstacles of biofuel production today is that the actual process of turning a plant into a usable energy source is time consuming and costly. Well, scientists at the US Department of Agriculture think they have a key that would unlock the door to a future of quick and easy production of fuels from plants and it comes from within a cow stomach — but don’t worry, no cows are harmed in the process! They’ve studied the enzymes in cows’ rumens (the first compartments of their stomachs) and have discovered a substance that is unusually good at breaking down the complex walls of plants. Makes sense right? If cows eat loads of fiber all day long, they must have a special secret to digesting it so why not use nature’s answer instead of looking for our own?

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Many grasses and parts of corn have unusually complex cell walls that make them resistant to breaking down into sugars. Cows have the ability to break down most of these complex fibers into fuel thanks to the genetic makeup of their digestive system. A team of scientists at the USDA, led by Dominic Wong, has isolated the necessary genes by collecting samples from bovine digestive tracts and locating the correct enzymes. Then they sequenced and cloned the genes and are now working on putting them into practice.

These enzymes could be integral to the future of biofuels if they are ultimately able to speed up the process of breaking down plants, increasing the efficiency of biofuels and bring down the cost of production. In addition to this very green application there could be a future for these enzymes in other parts of the science world as well. Researchers believe they could increase the nutritional value of animal feed and aid in the production of nutritional supplements.

Via Science Daily