A marine bug that eats boat bottoms and pier supports has been identified as the likely key to improving the efficiency of biofuel production.
Four-spotted gribbles are able to break down cellulose in wood to make sugar. Scientists are convinced that by mimicking the process they will be able to produce better biofuel.
Research is under way to pinpoint the enzymes produced in the bug's stomach, and the genes that control them, so that the process can be applied to woody biofuel crops such as willow.
The investigation is being carried out as part of research by the Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, a $50 million initiative announced Tuesday that is the biggest public investment in bioenergy research.
Getting at and breaking down the cellulose in woody plant material, such as wheat husks, straw and miscanthus grass, is a difficult task for biofuel producers.
At present they lose more than 30 percent of the potential energy and are anxious to identify how it is achieved in the natural world by organisms such as gribbles, termites, bacteria and fungi.