The Future of Energy is Hidden in the Guts of Insects

By Annalee Newitz on at

This presentation from scientist Javier Ceja-Navarro hints at a strange new future for agriculture and energy production. I’m willing to bet it’s like nothing that you ever imagined.

Ceja-Navarro is one of many researchers at Berkeley Lab, US, who are trying to use biological systems to create sustainable energy — in this case, biofuels. And microbes in the guts of three insects could play a huge role in this. He describes how his work explores chemical systems in the guts of insects who eat wood, coffee beans, and nutrients in soil. Each insect has a kind of superpower that could help us do things like sequester carbon in soil, break down biofuels quickly, and even prevent pests from eating crops.

For example, there are microbes in the guts of the passalid beetle that allow it to draw energy from the tough lignin fibres in plants. If we can figure out how these microbes work, we might be able to figure out ways to break down plants into biofuels more easily and quickly.

What’s so surprising (and hopeful) about Ceja-Navarro’s research is that he’s talking about using naturally occurring processes to make human civilisation more sustainable. This is the future of sustainable technology, people. It’s about observing how nature works, and trying to emulate it. It’s about building biological devices, not plastic garbage machines.

Watch and see the future.