For many people, beetles are horrible, disgusting little freaks. Up close and in your line of sight, they are a genuine eyesore that can put you off looking at them. However, the beetle is more than just a hard little eyesore: they might hold the key to creating better biofuels in the future.
This was recently looked into by scientific experts at UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab. They have done some research into the beetle, as their diet of dying wood apparently makes an excellent starting point for the creation of biofuels.
The gut of the beetle has closely adapted and adjusted to ensure that it is strong enough to handle plant material, such as cellulose and lignin, without issue. It then transforms these plant materials into necessary things like ethanol, methane and other biofuels which are loaded with energy such as hydrogen.
That diversity is one of the many reasons why it has become a go-to choice for a whole lot of scientists. The assistant adjunct professor of environmental science at UC Berkley, and senior author of the study about beetles, Eoin Brodie, said:
“We brought together a team of experts and used advanced molecular biology tools, together with spectrometry and tiny sensors, to discover that the beetle’s gut is made of up specialized compartments — each with a distinct microbiome — that work together almost like a factory production line, using unique biochemistry to turn the wood into food and fuel,
“The key innovation that nature has provided here is a way to combine biochemical processes that are otherwise incompatible,” he concluded.
This is a landmark discovery and could go some way to making sure that the humble and proud beetle plays a major role in environmental transformation. According to Javier Ceja-Navarro, a Berkeley Lab research scientist and lead author of the study:
“It turns out that the beetle’s gut architecture, such as the length and thickness of its gut walls, has evolved to suit its microbiome so that specific metabolic processes are favored in different gut regions,
“This beetle and its microbes have worked out what scientists around the world are hurrying to optimize – how to efficiently turn woody plant biomass into biofuels and bioproducts,”
The fact that the beetle is such a resilient breeding ground for such biofuels makes it a hugely compelling part of nature. It could help with the production of things like acetate, a major energy source, and could become a valuable learning tool as we try to become more aware of the changes we need to make to help the production of biofuels become a more common part of society.
So, the next time that you see a beetle scurrying around, remember the vast potential that they contain within!