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Montana researcher finds diesel-producing fungus

By Susanne Retka Schill | October 14, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 12, 2008 at 9:54 a.m. CST

Gary Strobel has dubbed his discovery myco-diesel - a hydrocarbon-producing fungus he found growing in a tree in a Patagonian forest. The endophytic fungus, Gliocladium roseum has been shown to produce many of the same hydrocarbons found in diesel, growing on cellulosic material.

Strobel, a professor in the plant sciences and plant pathology department at Montana State University, explained that many organisms produce the shortest chain hydrocarbon, methane, and a number of organisms make longer-chain hydrocarbons that become increasing wax-like as the carbon chains get longer. However, in an extensive search of the literature, no other organism has been identified that produces as many short-chain hydrocarbons as Gliocladium roseum.

"How long it will take to make it practical to use is anybody's guess," Strobel said. "My son is doing the genetic profile and genetic sequencing. Perhaps these genes could be moved into other organisms like yeast or E coli that grow faster." His son, Scott Strobel, is chair of Yale University's Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Strobel's paper detailing his discovery was published in the November issue of Microbiology. After a week of numerous phone calls following the publication of the paper, Gary Strobel is off to the rain forests of Borneo to look for more interesting specimens to test. Shortly after that trip, he will return to Patagonia. In his work, he has identified a number of potentially useful organisms that produce antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and other compounds. "Here I am 70 years old and still tromping around," Strobel said. "I want to teach people in tropical countries how to do this so the pressure builds to save native forests."

The Montana State University Web site includes interviews with Strobel, along with links to many of the stories written about his research. The Web site is: http://plantsciences.montana.edu/facultyorstaff/faculty/strobel/.
 

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