Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Learning From Ruminants

Cows may hold secret for efficient ethanol
Professor: Enzyme that helps digestion could be the key
The Associated Press
updated 4:24 p.m. MT, Mon., Oct. 6, 2008

NEW YORK - Researchers attempting to make the production of corn-based ethanol more efficient may not have needed to leave the farm.

During photosynthesis, corn stores nearly half of its potential energy in places other than the corn kernel, such as stalks and leaves.

An enzyme found in a cow's stomach may hold the key to using all of the plant, rather than just the kernel.

Michigan State University professor Mariam Sticklen was curious as to how a cow's stomach quickly broke down corn and other foods high in cellulose — a material that makes cell walls thick — and if it could be replicated outside of a cow. Read More

The importance of rumination in our world is under appreciated and mostly understood by most people. The ability for these animals to convert plant material which is indigestible by humans, and turn it into a useable protein source is an important reason we are able to utilize so many of our natural resources. Now it looks as though ruminants will again assist us in energy production. By identifying how exactly they break down cellulose, we may be able to utilize more plant material for the production of ethanol.

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