February 16, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

The Uses of Wood Rot

Wood rot fungus doesn’t sound like a useful thing.  Most people would rather get rid of it – especially those who have seen their houses decay because of it.  Some scientists, however, are intrigued by it.  It may have properties that could some day help power your car.
    Science Daily reported that the US Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture are trying to figure out how wood rot fungus decomposes wood.  Cellulose and lignin in wood are tough to break down.  “Few organisms in nature can efficiently breakdown lignin into smaller, more manageable chemical units amenable to biofuels production,” the article says.  The basidiomycetes fungi are rare exceptions.  Their ability to decompose wood is actually essential to the ongoing life of the forest, and to the carbon cycle of the whole planet.
    The genomes of these little wonders have recently been released.  Learning the tricks of wood decomposition might just help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.  “This type of information may empower industrial biotechnologists to devise new strategies to enhance efficiencies and reduce costs associated with biomass conversion for renewable fuels and chemical intermediates.”

There’s a purpose to everything, at least in its original design, and everything is designed to fulfill its purpose.  Rots, molds, rusts and other fungi are given bad names to reflect their bad rap.  That’s just because we don’t understand their place in the natural scheme.  We can learn to live with them when their natural purposes run up against our artificial ones.  You wouldn’t curse a little organism that is keeping our planet’s carbon cycle going, would you?  Its ability to decompose wood is a clever trick that challenges scientists.  Your challenge is to keep it out of your house and in the outdoor ecology where it does its job.  With a little respect for our fellow creatures, we can actually improve our lives by learning about their designed secrets.

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Biomimetics

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