Termites: Insect Hydro-Power

Music: Ambience: Termites eating

As fossil fuels get more expensive, researchers are looking for alternative sources of energy. One of the most unlikely sources termites. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Scientists have discovered that the microbes within a termite’s gut produce hydrogen as they help the insect digest its diet of wood. Right now we’re listening to sounds of termites feeding.

“About a third of the energy that is derived from the plant materials during the fermentation of plant materials by the termite gut microbiota, about a third of that energy passages through hydrogen gas as an intermediate. So it’s not just a small side reaction that goes on. It’s a major route of energy flow in the system.”

At the California Institute of Technology, Environmental Biologist Dr. Jared Leadbetter has been studying the chemical processes that take place within a termite’s gut.

“There has been increased interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology. So, at the same time that we need to develop and improve hydrogen fuel cells, we need to develop and improve sources of hydrogen. Where is that hydrogen coming from? There is interest in coming up with renewable sources of hydrogen. So, plants we can grow, of course. So, certainly plants are a great source of renewable materials. And termites can bridge a gap between plant material and hydrogen, because hydrogen is produced during the degradation of plant materials in the hindgut. So, whereas other people are interested in learning how to convert petroleum products into hydrogen, we’re interested in learning more about the details about how nature is already transforming plant materials into hydrogen. And to be able to tap that in some way, for our own interests.”

In order to figure out how these termite gut microbes produce hydrogen, Dr. Leadbetter and his colleagues are investigating their genome-the make up of their DNA. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Termites: Insect Hydro-Power

Could termites be the key to a clean energy future?
Air Date:08/29/2016
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Music: Ambience: Termites eating

As fossil fuels get more expensive, researchers are looking for alternative sources of energy. One of the most unlikely sources termites. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Scientists have discovered that the microbes within a termite's gut produce hydrogen as they help the insect digest its diet of wood. Right now we're listening to sounds of termites feeding.

"About a third of the energy that is derived from the plant materials during the fermentation of plant materials by the termite gut microbiota, about a third of that energy passages through hydrogen gas as an intermediate. So it's not just a small side reaction that goes on. It's a major route of energy flow in the system."

At the California Institute of Technology, Environmental Biologist Dr. Jared Leadbetter has been studying the chemical processes that take place within a termite's gut.

"There has been increased interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology. So, at the same time that we need to develop and improve hydrogen fuel cells, we need to develop and improve sources of hydrogen. Where is that hydrogen coming from? There is interest in coming up with renewable sources of hydrogen. So, plants we can grow, of course. So, certainly plants are a great source of renewable materials. And termites can bridge a gap between plant material and hydrogen, because hydrogen is produced during the degradation of plant materials in the hindgut. So, whereas other people are interested in learning how to convert petroleum products into hydrogen, we're interested in learning more about the details about how nature is already transforming plant materials into hydrogen. And to be able to tap that in some way, for our own interests."

In order to figure out how these termite gut microbes produce hydrogen, Dr. Leadbetter and his colleagues are investigating their genome-the make up of their DNA. We'll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.