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Pooping pandas may make better biofuels

Gut microbes break down bamboo efficiently, inspiring new approaches to process raw plant materials for fuel

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1:50pm, August 30, 2011

Two giant pandas in the Memphis Zoo have dropped researchers a gift. Studies of the pandas’ poop show that their gut microbes break down bamboo efficiently — a trick that humans could co-opt to turn woody plant material into alternative energy sources.

“We’re taking refuse — panda poop and the microbes that live there — and trying to break down another form of refuse,” says Ashli Brown, a biochemist at Mississippi State University. Brown described her team’s results on August 29 at a meeting in Denver of the American Chemical Society.

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