Diesel-producing fungus identified

By Susanne Retka Schill | January 01, 2009
Gary Strobel has dubbed his discovery "mycodiesel," a hydrocarbon-producing fungus he found growing in a tree in a Patagonian forest in South America. The endophytic fungus Gliocladium roseum has been shown to produce many of the same hydrocarbons found in diesel, while growing on cellulosic material.

Strobel, a professor in the plant sciences and plant pathology department at Montana State University, explained that many organisms produce the shortest-chain hydrocarbon -methane - while other organisms make longer-chain hydrocarbons that become increasingly wax-like as the carbon chains get longer. However, in an extensive search of the literature, no other organism has been identified that produces as many short-chain hydrocarbons as Gliocladium roseum, he said.

Strobel also suggested that hydrocarbon-producing organisms such as this one may actually have been the prehistoric source of crude oil. "How long it will take to make it practical to use is anybody's guess," he said. "My son is doing the genetic profile and genetic sequencing. Perhaps these genes could be moved into other organisms such as yeast or E. coli that grow faster." Scott Strobel is chair of Yale University's Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Gary Strobel's paper detailing his discovery was published in the November issue of Microbiology. In his work, he has identified a number of potentially useful organisms that produce antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and other useful compounds. After a week of receiving numerous phone calls following the publication of the paper, he left for the rainforests of Borneo to look for more interesting specimens for testing. Shortly after that trip, he will return to Patagonia. "Here I am, 70 years old and still tromping around," he said. "I want to teach people in tropical countries how to do this as the pressure builds to save native forests."

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