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Panda Poop to the Rescue

August 31, 2011

Brit Trogen

If you're like me, you've probably suspected for a while now that the planet is going to, well... crap. Case in point: in the last week I've experienced an earthquake and an over-hyped hurricane, the latter of which forced me to stock my fridge with water bottles, which will now add to the world's growing mass of discarded plastic. 



(Enough water was purchased in New York last week to contribute to next year's wave of climate change-fueled hurricanes)


So getting good news always seems like a treat. And when the good news comes from the backside of a giant panda, so much the better.

 

At a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, new findings were revealed that showed the bacteria contained in panda feces have powerful effects when it comes to tapping into plant biomass like grass, woodchips and crop waste as a new source of biofuels. And by using these materials rather than corn or other food sources usually targeted for biofuels, panda feces could be the key to overcoming a major hurdle of biofuels, and unlocking energy sources that could help overcome our dependence on oil.

Study co-author Ashli Brown (of course...) points out that because pandas are accustomed to breaking down exceptionally tough plant material known as lignocellulose, they were a promising target for this study, which identified the digestive microbes responsible for their robust diet. And since some of the bacteria identified were similar, and even more effective at breaking down plant material, than termite bacteria, it's safe to say they were successful.

So, we've finally got it! An argument to keep pandas alive that relies on more than just their cuteness.



 

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