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Friday, 12 December 2008

The wisdom of Nature

In today's edition:

  1. Rainforest fungus makes diesel
  2. Invention: Diabetes spice
  3. Mysterious Microbe Plays Important Role in Ocean Ecology
  4. Invention: Excrement antibiotic

Rainforest fungus makes diesel

( -- A unique fungus that makes diesel compounds has been discovered living in trees in the rainforest. The fungus is potentially a totally new source of green energy and scientists are now working to develop its fuel producing potential.

The fungus, which has been named Gliocladium roseum, produces a number of different molecules made of hydrogen and carbon that are found in diesel. Because of this, the fuel it produces is called "myco-diesel". It lives on the Ulmo tree in Patagonian rainforest.

Many microbes produce hydrocarbons. Fungi that live in wood seem to make a range of potentially explosive compounds. In the rainforest, G. roseum produces lots of long chain hydrocarbons and other biological molecules. When the researchers grew it in the lab, it produced fuel that is even more similar to the diesel we put in our cars-it can make myco-diesel directly from cellulose.

Cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose make up the cell walls in plants, but they cannot be digested by animals or humans but can be recycled. In current biofuel production, this waste is treated with enzymes called cellulases that turn the cellulose into sugar. Microbes then ferment this sugar into ethanol that can be used as a fuel. source
My comment: Nature thought of it all. Isn't it funny how we learn from her, little by little, and keep on discovering that things we created have always existed. We're heading for biotechnological future! Nice!

Invention: Diabetes spice

Grains of paradise or Aframomum melegueta , a peppery spice, is a member of the ginger family that grows well in the swamps along the coast.

The spice has long been known in African folklore as a medicine that aids digestion and now western scientists say it might also be a powerful diabetes treatment.

Ilya Raskin, a plant biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has tested an extract of A. melegueta on diabetic mice and says it produces a significant drop in their blood sugar levels.

Raskin says the extract could help to prevent the onset of diabetes in people at high risk and could be given prophylactically to individuals who have a family history of diabetes, or have other risk factors for developing such disease.

In Africa, the plant seeds are chewed on cold days to "promote" body warmth and are used extensively as a food spice. source

My comment: Back on the first comment. It's hard to say more on this. There are many herbs that are really effective, we know it and I think we're just scratching the surface. Especially if it can be used for prevention.

Mysterious Microbe Plays Important Role in Ocean Ecology

( -- An unusual microorganism discovered in the open ocean may force scientists to rethink their understanding of how carbon and nitrogen cycle through ocean ecosystems.

A research team led by Jonathan Zehr, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, characterized the new microbe by analyzing its genetic material, even though researchers have not been able to grow it in the laboratory.

Zehr said the newly described organism seems to be an atypical member of the cyanobacteria, a group of photosynthetic bacteria formerly known as blue-green algae.

Unlike all other known free-living cyanobacteria, this one lacks some of the genes needed to carry out photosynthesis, the process by which plants use light energy to make sugars out of carbon dioxide and water.

The mysterious microbe provides natural fertilizer to the oceans by "fixing" nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form useable by other organisms.

Although 80 percent of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen, most organisms cannot use it unless it is "fixed" to other elements to make molecules like ammonia and nitrate. Because nitrogen is essential for all forms of life, nitrogen fixation is a major factor controlling overall biological productivity in the oceans.

The new microbe is one of the most abundant nitrogen fixers in many parts of the ocean. The lack of photosynthesis allows the bacteria to fix nitrogen during the day. But without photosynthesis, it can't take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars. So it's not clear how the new microbe feeds itself. It could be a symbiont. source

My comment: I find it most intriguing how this guys feed themselves and why it's not obvious. Because they are so different, knowing their metabolism may give a good clue for alien life.

Invention: Excrement antibiotic

Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents prized for their musk - a strong-smelling substance produced by specialised glands - which can be used in perfumes, cosmetics and medicines.

Now Ki Keun Kim and colleagues at Pusan National University, South Korea, have found that the animal produces another useful by-product.

The Pusan team claims that muskrat excrement contains a potent antibiotic that can kill the Salmonella bacteria that are a common cause of food poisoning, as well as the Vibrio bacteria that cause seafood-linked food poisoning.

It also proved effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of opportunistic infections, they say.

The patent also notes that experiments show the compound kills termites too, perhaps providing an environmentally friendly method of insect control.

Collecting the antibiotic requires drying the faeces, and using an organic solvent to extract the compound. However, the patent says nothing about the chemistry of the compound, or whether it might be safe to administer to humans. source

My comment: Hihi, nice. Eating excrements like an antibiotic. Ok, actually it's disgusting.

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