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September 23, 2013

One day, we may fill the tank with fungi fuel!


Plant fungi and bacteria called "endophytes" fueling breakthroughs in energy, medicine and more

Over his 50-year career, Montana State University plant pathologist Gary Strobel has traveled to all seven continents to collect samples of endophytes from remote and sometimes dangerous places. Endophytes are microorganisms--bacteria and fungi--that live within the living tissue of a plant.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Strobel, engineer Brent Peyton and their team at Montana State University have discovered that endophytes have the ability to make diesel-like fuel. One hydrocarbon-producing fungus comes from the Ulmo tree of Patagonia. Another is a citrus fungus from Florida. And, amazingly, it takes the team just a few weeks to create the fuel.

Strobel says the long-term goal is to improve the process of using microbes that degrade plant material, especially agricultural waste, to make economically feasible quantities of hydrocarbons. He adds fungi and bacteria hold great potential for breakthroughs in medicine, plastics and green chemistry as well.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #0937613 and funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Marsha Walton, Science Nation Producer


Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.