Termite Intestine Expected to Produce Woody Biofuel

Apr 3, 2008
Motohiko Hamada, Nikkei Automotive Technology
The protist living symbiotically in the Japanese subterranean termite's intestine and bicteria living symbiotically in the protist.
The protist living symbiotically in the Japanese subterranean termite's intestine and bicteria living symbiotically in the protist.
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Japan's independent administrative research institution Riken has succeeded in completely decoding the genome of a symbiotic microbe in the intestine of termites for the first time in the world.

The ability of termites to decompose wood attracting attention from the standpoint of its application to the development of bio fuel derived from wood. The ability of termites to reproduce only by eating wood stems from the hundreds of different microbes living symbiotically in their intestines. Nevertheless, only little has been known about each microbe's role as most of the microbes have not been successfully cultivated to date.

Termites reproduce by eating only wood with no nutritional value. This is possible because protists and bacteria that live symbiotically in their intestines have their own purposes and are working, helping one another. In other words, termites and symbiotic microbes are teaming up and working as a factory that dissolves wood.

To find out what is going on in their intestines, we must comprehend the function of each symbiotic microbe. However, as symbiotic protists and bacteria in a termite intestine total nearly 1,000 kinds and most of them cannot be cultivated, each microbe's function has been almost unknown thus far.

Environmental Molecular Biology Laboratory of Riken Discovery Research Institute, Sequence Technology Team under Genome Core Technology Facilities of Riken Genomic Sciences Center and Genome Annotation and Comparative Analysis Team succeeded in acquiring the full-length array of a genome of a symbiotic bacterium, which cannot be cultivated, in the cells of symbiotic protists in the intestines of Japanese subterranean termites by directly multiplying it using a DNA synthesis enzyme.

The newly established genome analysis method will enable researchers to analyze genomes of diverse microbes living in termites' intestines one by one and to considerably comprehend the symbiotic structure of microbes in their intestines.

If we can understand how termites' highly efficient wood decomposition ability works, we can also obtain clues to develop bio fuel derived from wooden biomass that does not compete with human food. In addition, application to hydrogen-based energy development can also be considered as the bacterium analyzed this time has also been found to generate hydrogen along with its host protist.