Belgian scientists look for biofuel clues in panda poo

September 29, 2015 10:36
Scientists will focus on microorganisms in the giant panda's gut to try to understand how the animal can digest tough bamboo. Photo: AFP

Belgian researchers are examining the excrement of giant pandas to try to understand how they can digest tough bamboo, hoping for clues on how to develop new generations of biofuel.

While a few scientific studies have looked into the digestive tract of the endangered panda, the researchers say their study is the first to focus on the microorganisms in the animal's gut, Reuters reported.

The genetic make-up of pandas is that of a carnivore but the animals have adapted to a diet consisting almost exclusively of bamboo.

"We can look for new enzymes which could be used to degrade tough biomass," said Korneel Rabaey, professor for biochemical and microbial technology at Ghent University.

The results of the study may point to new, cheaper ways to produce so-called second generation biofuels made from plants and biomass not destined for consumption such as corn stalks.

The research may also help the pandas. "We can also go back to the animal and understand why it is eating only certain kinds and parts of the bamboo," Rabaey said.

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