Scientists say that a marine pest could be the key to a biofuel breakthrough, The Times of London reported Tuesday. Gribble, which resemble pink woodlice, plagued seafarers for centuries by boring through the planks of ships and destroying wooden piers.

But now environmental scientists are taking a keen interest in the crustaceans.

A team of British researchers has learned that gribble have a gift for digesting wood not seen in any other animal. Enzymes produced by the tiny creatures are able to break down woody cellulose and turn it into energy-rich sugars meaning that gribble could convert wood and straw into liquid biofuel.

A gribble-like processing plant could make sugars from woody raw material that can be fermented into alcohol-based fuels for vehicle engines.

Researchers at the universities of York and Portsmouth made the discovery after carrying out an extensive study of digestive genes from the gribble species Limnoria quadripunctata.

The results of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.