Everybody poops, including panda bears. (See about 0:35 in the above video for evidence.) But panda poop could turn out to be quite a bit more important than your average animal excrement. That's because scientists are "mining" it for bacteria that could help make better biofuel.
The key problem with biofuel today is that the stuff that's actually economical to produce — i.e., corn ethanol — isn't really that great for the environment. Corn farming uses a lot of fertilizer, water, and herbicide. Using corn that was previously grown for food to make fuel, instead, can lead to deforestation as people clear land to make up for the lost food farming. Some models of carbon dioxide emissions suggest that, by the time you factor in things like fossil-fuel derived fertilizers and the deforestation, a gallon of corn ethanol might not be any better for climate change than a gallon of gasoline. Not all the models agree on that. But even if corn ethanol produces fewer carbon emissions than gas, you still have to deal with the fact that growing nutrient-hungry corn on the same patch of ground over and over and over is really bad for local soil and water quality.
Cellulosic ethanol could be a much better alternative — particularly cellulosic ethanol made from native, perennial plants that don't require heavy inputs to thrive and actually improve the health of the land they're grown on. The problem: Converting those plants into fuel is, so far, a lot more expensive. Cellulose — the plant fiber that makes up things like stalks of bamboo and tall prairie grasses — is tough stuff and hard to break down.
That's where panda poop comes in. Pandas process tons of cellulose every day, right in their guts. Maybe the bacteria that work for them could work for us, too.
Read more about this research at Chemical and Engineering News
Olivia P. Judson’s paper in Nature, The energy expansions of evolution, presents a novel, beautifully written and presented frame for looking at the history of life on Earth: as a series of five epochs in which energy became more abundant and available to lifeforms, allowing them to scale up in complexity and fecundity: geochemical energy, […]
Beatboxer Tom Thum had ENT doctor and laryngeal surgeon Dr Matthew Broadhurst shine an endoscopic camera down his throat while beatboxing: “I wanted to find out how my larynx functioned when beatboxing compared to how it functions normally with speech, and whether or not there were any abnormalities in my laryngeal anatomy. I also had […]
Gastric bypass surgery is remarkably effective at promoting weight-loss (it cuts the long-term risk of early death from morbid obesity by 40%), and it’s long been presumed that the major action by which it worked was that, by bypassing the parts of the gut where most food absorbtion takes place, it limited the calories that […]
If you are camping during rainy season, or just want a TSA-approved lighter, these plasma torches make perfect travel companions. These gas-free lighters create a small plasma beam that’s safer than butane to use and more environmentally friendly. It creates a super-hot, splashproof flame so you can get a campfire going, or have a smoke […]
If you don’t want to get stuck footing the bill for a hit and run, this dashboard-mounted camera offers up to 2K resolution to make sure you always have a reliable witness, and it’s available in the Boing Boing Store for 30% off it’s usual price.The PapaGo mounts unobtrusively to your windshield to see everything […]
While some people still maintain that everything in Apple’s walled garden “just works” and is immune to the rampant malware of the Windows world, the reality is different. The Mac’s growing market share has made it a much more viable target for malicious actors, and its built-in tools aren’t always enough to fix things. Drive […]