Scientists studying the digestive system of a curious wood-eating crustacean have discovered it may hold the key to sustainably converting wood into biofuel. Gribble are small marine invertebrates that have evolved to perform an important ecological role eating the abundant supplies of wood washed into the sea from river estuaries.
They can also be something of a marine menace, consuming the wood of boats and piers and causing considerable damage in the process. Until now, the question of how gribble break through lignin—the highly resistant coating that wraps around the sugar polymers that compose wood—has been a mystery.
The team of scientists, led by the University of York, studied the hind gut of gribble, and discovered that Hemocyanins—the same proteins that make the blood of invertebrates blue—are crucial to their ability to extract sugars from wood.
The discovery brings researchers a step closer to identifying cheaper and more sustainable tools for converting wood into low carbon fuel—a promising alternative to fossil fuels like coal and oil.