Scientists just discovered a key ingredient that could help propel the production of biofuel: horse poop. Converting corn stalks and grass to biofuel requires removing lignin and breaking down cellulose, which is a complicated and expensive process. But thanks to an enzyme that lives in fungi in horse manure, scientists were able to drastically reduce costs, inching biofuel closer to becoming a viable and cost-effective energy source.

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Cellulose is locked away in the cell walls of plants. Processing plants into biofuel is a complicated process that involves removing lignin from the cell walls and using enzymes to break down the cellulose into usable sugars.

The digestive systems of horses and other animals naturally break down lignin (which is present in plants, grasses and woods) with ease. A fungus that lives inside their digestive tracts (and is also present in their poop) has enzymes that turn lignin into sugar to give the animals energy.

Scientists announced at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society that they are working on synthesizing enzymes derived from the fungi into easily controlled yeasts. Once the enzymes are incorporated into yeasts, the yeasts can be put to work to break down cellulose at a fast rate, synthesizing biofuel in the process.

In the past, scientists looked only to bacteria for the enzymes, but the discovery of their presence in fungi has helped to advance the timeline of commercial production of biofuels.

Via Phys Org

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