A team of scientists has turned to nature for answers: a study into how goats and sheep digest inedible materials may provide the key to producing cheaper biofuels. The researchers believe anaerobic fungi found in these animals’ stomachs produce enzymes that can break down a number of different plant materials. What has got them excited is that these enzymes could be used to efficiently make biofuel out of cheap organic waste material, something which has to date eluded scientists. That’s because it is difficult to turn the matrix of complex molecules found in the cell walls of grasses and wood chips into fuel. It can be done but only by using an industrial process which involves either preheating the sugars or treating them with chemicals. The trade off is that this increases the complexity and cost of the refining process. Enter the goat or sheep and their ability to digest almost anything they eat. The enzymes not only do the job cheaper but they also do it better, as lead author Prof Michelle O’Malley from the University of California, Santa Barbara explains “Because gut fungi have more tools to convert biomass to fuel, they could work faster and on a larger variety of plant material…That would open up many opportunities for the biofuel industry”. Her co-author Prof Michael Theodorou from Harper Adams University, UK added, “We need to invest more resources to study this group of relatively unknown micro-organisms. They may hold the key to the renewable technology of effective biomass conversion. Their full potential must be explored and exploited.” Don’t know about the reader but the editor has a good gut feeling about this.