Fungi Help Fuel Our Future

Jim Frederick, Brian Yost and Susan Dille

The purpose of this submission is to bring to the public’s attention how organisms so common in nature like fungi can help scientists develop complex solutions to the global rise in air carbon dioxide concentrations and the resulting predicted climate change.

Fungi Help Fuel Our Future  by Jim Frederick, Brian Yost and Susan Dille

Cellulose in plants is one of the most abundant compounds found in nature but is very tightly held in the plant’s cell walls by compounds called lignin and hemi-cellulose. Without these compounds, plants could not stand up in the wind and would quickly break down, but they are obstacles to making ethanol from cellulose. The complex cellulose molecules must be cleaved into smaller, simpler sugars which can then be fermented into ethanol. Few enzymes are known which can efficiently breakdown the glue-like lignin and hemi-cellulose to expose the cellulose molecules. Fungi may hold the key, as many of them make the enzymes needed to break down wood. Scientists with Clemson University and the Savannah River National Laboratory hope to utilize these enzymes to remove lignin glues in biofuel plants such as switchgrass, and cleave the cellulose into simple sugars. The picture highlights the possible role that these simple organisms may have in keeping our air cleaner and preventing future climate change.

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