In Argentina, a fungus that produces diesel

November 4th, 2008 - 2:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 4 (IANS) Researchers have isolated a fungus that produces a new kind of diesel fuel, describing the find as promising.The discovery may offer an alternative to fossil fuels, said Gary Strobel, Montana State University (MSU) professor of plant sciences. The find is even bigger, he said, than his 1993 discovery of fungus that contained the anticancer drug taxol.

Strobel found the diesel-producing fungus in a Patagonia rainforest in Argentina in 2002 and collected a variety of specimens, including the branches from an ancient family of trees known as “ulmo”. When he and his collaborators examined the branches, they found fungus growing inside.

They continued to investigate and discovered that the fungus, called “Gliocladium roseum,” was producing gases. Further testing showed that the fungus — under limited oxygen — was producing a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel, obtained from crude oil.

“These are the first organisms that have been found that make many of the ingredients of diesel,” Strobel said. “This is a major discovery.”

Described as ‘myco-diesel’, it could be an option for those who want alternatives to ethanol, Strobel said. Some car manufacturers who shun ethanol might consider myco-diesel or fuels produced by other microbes, said a MSU release.

“The question is, are there other microbes out there that can do for us?” he asked.

Researchers in government agencies and private industry have already shown interest in the fungi. A team to conduct further research has been established between MSU’s College of Engineering and researchers at Yale University.

One member of the team is Strobel’s son, Scott, who is chairman of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale. The MSU-Yale team will investigate a variety of questions, including the genetic makeup of Gliocladium roseum.

Scott Strobel said he agrees with his father that the discovery is exciting.

Strobel and associates described their observations in the November issue of Microbiology.

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