Scientist Discovers Fungus That Could Fuel A Car

Gliocladium roseum

hide captionColorized environmental scanning electron microscope photo of Gliocladium roseum, an endophtic fungus that produces myco-diesel hydrocarbons.

Courtesy Dr. Gary A. Strobel
Gliocladium roseum

hide captionCulture plate of Gliocladium roseum, an endophtic fungus that produces myco-diesel hydrocarbons.

Courtesy Dr. Gary A. Strobel

A researcher at Montana State University has found a micro-organism in a plant in South America that could fuel vehicles one day. The unusual fungus contains the essence of diesel, which one could use to run a bus, for example, without processing it at all.

Professor Gary Strobel discusses his findings on "myco-diesel," which are being published Wednesday in The Journal of Microbiology in London.

Dr. Strobel made the discovery by chance, while collecting fungus from the stem of a tree in an old forest in southern Chile. When he finally got around to sending it off for sophisticated analysis — years later — he discovered that this version of Gliocladium wasn't like others he'd encountered before.

"I've scoured the earth for not only organisms like Gliocladium, but many other endophytes [a plant that lives in the tissue of another plant]. I've been to almost every rainforest on the planet," he tells Alex Chadwick. But, "in over 50 years, I've never seen anything like that."

Why would a fungus create diesel? Essentially to protect from plant invaders, he says.

He also discusses a brief scandal in his past that involved chainsawing trees and trashing an EPA document.

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