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A Surprising New Biofuel

We may eventually end up eating it, but a far better use for it would be to burn it as fuel. And we won't use our own--we'll use panda poop instead! It turns out that while pandas may have trouble with sex, they have no trouble pooping, and since bamboo makes up about 99% of their diet in the wild, their guts contain bacteria that is especially effective in breaking down the cellulose in plants into nutrients. This means that their excrement contains bacteria which can break down plant material in the way that is needed to use plants like corn as a new biofuels.

PhysOrg.com quotes researchers Ashli Brown as saying, "Who would have guessed that 'panda poop' might help solve one of the major hurdles to producing biofuels, which is optimizing the breakdown of the raw plant materials used to make the fuels? We hope our research will help expand the use of biofuels in the future and help cut dependency on foreign oil. We also hope it will reinforce the importance of wildlife conservation." And since pandas live mostly in China, this gives that country a whole new product to sell to the West (as well as use to fuel their own factories).

We have long been worried that our goal to replace fossil fuel with ethanol made from corn will have deleterious effects on the food supply worldwide, especially in places like Mexico, where corn is a staple food. And genetically-engineering a special kind of corn for biofuel could result in stronger seeds that blow into other fields and push out corn crops destined as food. If this corn is being grown as food for cattle, it could result in a meat shortage. But researchers have conducted genetic studies of corn varieties and found that corn can be bred to optimize properties for cellulosic ethanol without adversely affecting the grain yield.

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It's not the panda poop but the bacteria in it then, which is of interest. (After all, I would hate to rely on a species that has trouble with sex to provide enough poop to satisfy our insatiable appetite for fuel.) We ought to pull a reverse on China with this: take the bacteria present in their native animal's poop, and use it to create OUR industry and maybe sell it to them instead. But we are too dumb, and our oil industry too powerful for that to happen, so I dream.

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