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Originally published February 28 2009

Rare Fungus Discovered that Converts Plant Cellulose to Diesel Fuel

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Researchers from Montana State University, Yale University and the Center for Lab Services in Pasco, Washington, have discovered a fungus that naturally synthesizes diesel compounds, according to a paper published in the journal Microbiology.

"These are the first organisms that have been found that make many of the ingredients of diesel," researcher Professor Gary Strobel said. "This is a major discovery."

The fungus, Gliocladium roseum, was discovered living inside a type of tree known as an ulmo, in the rainforests of Patagonia in South America.

"We were trying to discover totally novel fungi in this tree by exposing its tissues to the volatile antibiotics of the fungus Muscodor albus," Strobel said. "Quite unexpectedly, G. roseum grew in the presence of these gases when almost all other fungi were killed. It was also making volatile antibiotics."

Strobel regularly travels around the world, searching for microbes or plant compounds that might prove useful to humans. In 1993, he discovered a fungus that naturally produces the cancer drug taxol. In this case, however, Strobel found not just an antibiotic, but a potential fuel source.

"When we examined the gas composition of G. roseum, we were totally surprised to learn that it was making a plethora of hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives," he said.

With petroleum supplies dwindling, researchers are increasingly interested in biological sources of fuels such as ethanol. G. roseum may provide crucial in making many biofuel sources more realistic, due to its unique ability to produce diesel compounds directly from cellulose, rather than sugar alone.

Typically, the cellulose starches in biofuel stock must first be converted into sugar before its fermentation into ethanol.

"This is the only organism that has ever been shown to produce such an important combination of fuel substances," Strobel said. "The fungus can even make these diesel compounds from cellulose, which would make it a better source of biofuel than anything we use at the moment."

The next step, the researchers said, is to see if the gases that the fungus produces can be turned into liquid fuel.

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