Wheat straw is a material that can be used in the production of biofuels and certain commodity chemicals. However, in order to become biofuel, the polymers contained within the wheat have to be brown down. In the search for methods to break down these polymers, researchers have discovered certain microbes in the guts of particular termite species that can be useful in this pursuit.

Wheat straw is composed of dried stalks that are left over during grain production, and it has three main polymers – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, that are interwoven in complex three-dimensional structures. Of these three polymers, the first two can be easily broken down and converted into biofuel. Lignin however, is the toughest of the three, but it can be broken down using enzymes from fungi. Now, scientists are looking for easier and more cost effective ways to break this compound down. This is where the termites come in.

Gut microbes from four termite species have been shown to be effective during this breakdown process, and researchers have gathered 500 guts from these species and added them to an anaerobic bioreactor. The results were promising. After 20 days, the microbes managed to degrate not only lignin, but also cellulose and hemicellulose. In future experiments, the researchers hope to better identify the microorganisms, enzymes and degradation pathways that are responsible for the effect in order to improve results.

For all the trouble they cause, termites can be surprisingly useful. Studies of various indigineous tribes across the world have found termites being used for their antibacterial properties, medicinal purposes, antiviral properties and treatments for various diseases and disorders. They are also used as a food source for both humans and livestock.

It’s clear that while being dangerous pests, termites can have their uses. By researching and studying these interesting insects, scientists may be able to discover new ways to offset the damage that termites do on a regular basis.

However, most of us still have to deal with the fallout from our connection to termites. They cause a lot of damage to properties across the US, and infestation usually means extra repair and treatment costs. Catching an infestation early however can help lower these costs significantly. If you suspect that you may have an infestation, or if you would like to schedule an inspection, contact us today. A regular inspection program is the best way to protect your home from termite damage.