At this time when the world is talking about alternative fuel this study could not have come at a very opportune time.
It is not that biofuels – fuels produced directly or indirectly from organic material (biomass) including plant materials and animal waste – are non-existent because for a long time now they are being converted into bioenergy, after applying more advanced conversion technologies.
The problem with biofuels, however, is that not only are they produced from crops, such as maize, which impacts the lives of the poor because its being used as a fuel instead of food limits the supply and drive up prices, but, so far, the ability to efficiently use the vast majority of cheap, waste organic material has eluded the makers of biofuels.
The study says that the problem with turning wood chips and grasses into fuel is the matrix of complex molecules found in the cell walls of these tough materials.
Industrial attempts to break these down into the type of sugars that can be refined for fuel often require preheating or treatment with chemicals, which add to the complexity and the cost.
To solve the problem, researchers have turned to the well-known abilities of goats and sheep to digest almost anything they eat.
Researchers believe this facility is the result of the presence of anaerobic gut fungi, organisms that have existed since the time of the dinosaurs.
To test their ideas, the scientists collected fresh manure from a zoo and a stable and isolated three previously uncharacterized cultures from goats, sheep and horses.
They found that these fungi excrete enzymes that break down a wide range of plant material.
Unlike the best genetically engineered enzymes produced by the biofuel industry to date, they discovered that the sheep and goat fungi produced many hundred more of these proteins.
The scientists say that in tests, the fungi performed as well as the best engineered attempts from industry.
Reportedly, the study has been published in the journal, Science.