A harmless microscopic fungus that lives in Ulmo trees in the Patagonian rainforest might one day be used to produce diesel fuel.
Dr Gary Strobel of Montana State University found that the fungus, known as Gliocladium roseum, produces many energy-rich hydrocarbons.
What’s more, the particular diesel components it produces can be varied by changing the medium and environment it grows in.
The fungus even performs under low-oxygen conditions like those found deep underground.
Strobel’s discovery suggests that fungi living in ancient plants may have contributed to the natural formation of crude oil, a slow process that occurs when organic matter is subjected to high pressure and heat under layers of rock.
‘Time will tell if this microbe can be developed for useful purposes for mankind,’ said Strobel.
He envisions these fungi, or their genetic material, being used in the future to purposefully manufacture hydrocarbons for fuel.
Before that can happen, researchers must figure out how to increase hydrocarbon yields from the fungus and find ways to supply the remaining hydrocarbon components needed for complete diesel fuel.
Strobel is now checking other strains of Gliocladium roseum for hydrocarbon production.
The strain originally isolated from the tree produced annulene, a component of rocket fuel.
‘As is the usual case in biology, if one microorganism can do nifty biochemical tricks, so can others,’ Strobel said.
‘Dr Strobel’s research is resulting in very exciting findings,’ said Bruce Hamilton, programme director in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems, which funded the research.
Cultures of the fungus Gliocladium roseum produce hydrocarbons