Washington, Nov 4 : A team of researchers has found a fungus that produces a new type of diesel fuel, which holds great promise as it may offer an alternative to fossil fuels.
According to Gary Strobel, from the Montana State University (MSU), who led the research team, the ouput of this particular fungus is "myco-diesel".
Strobel, who travels the world looking for exotic plants that may contain beneficial microbes, found the diesel-producing fungus in a Patagonia rainforest.
Strobel visited the rainforest 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, which is 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," he added.
Myco-diesel could be an option for those who want alternatives even to ethanol, according to Strobel. Some car manufacturers who shun ethanol might consider myco-diesel or fuels produced by other microbes.
"The question is, are there other microbes out there that can do for us?" asked Strobel.
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.
The MSU-Yale University team will investigate a variety of questions, including the genetic makeup of "Gliocladium roseum."
"The main value of this discovery may not be the organism itself, but may be the genes responsible for the production of these gases," Strobel said. "There are certain enzymes that are responsible for the conversion of substrates such as cellulose to myco-diesel," he added.
Scott Strobel, chairman of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, said that his team is already screening the fungus' genome.
Besides determining the complete genetic makeup of the fungus, they will run a series of genetic and biochemical tests to identify the genes responsible for its diesel-making properties. The broader question is, what is responsible for the production of these compounds," Scott Strobel said. "If you can identify that, you can hopefully scale it up so you end up with better efficiency of production," he added.