A Fuel-producing Fungus

A team led by a Montana State University professor has found a fungus that produces a new type of diesel fuel.


| November 7, 2008



A colorized environmental scanning electron microscope image of Gliocladium roseum, an endophtic fungus.

A colorized environmental scanning electron microscope image of Gliocladium roseum, an endophtic fungus that produces myco-diesel hydrocarbons.

courtesy Gary Strobel, Montana State University

Bozeman, Montana – A team led by a Montana State University professor has found a fungus that produces a new type of diesel fuel, which they say holds great promise.

Calling the fungus' output "myco-diesel," Gary Strobel and his collaborators describe their initial observations in the November issue of Microbiology , which carries a photo of the fungus on its cover. The discovery may offer an alternative to fossil fuels, says Strobel, MSU professor of plant sciences and plant pathology. The find is even bigger, he says, than his 1993 discovery of fungus that contained the anticancer drug taxol.

Strobel, who travels the world looking for exotic plants that may contain beneficial microbes, found the diesel-producing fungus in a Patagonia rainforest. Strobel visited the rainforest in 2002 and collected a variety of specimens, including the branches from an ancient family of trees known as "ulmo." When he and his collaborators examined the branches, they found fungus growing inside. They continued to investigate and discovered that the fungus, called Gliocladium roseum, was producing gases. Further testing showed that the fungus – under limited oxygen – was producing a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel, which is obtained from crude oil.

"These are the first organisms that have been found that make many of the ingredients of diesel," Strobel says. "This is a major discovery."

Strobel is the lead author of the paper published in Microbiology. His MSU co-authors are Berk Knighton and Tom Livinghouse in the Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry, and Katreena Kluck and Yuhao Ren in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology. Other co-authors are Meghan Griffin and Daniel Spakowicz from Yale University and Joe Sears from the Center for Lab Services in Pasco, Washington.

Strobel doesn't know when drivers will fill their gas tanks with fungi fuel or if processors can make enough to fill the demand. The road to commercialization is filled with potential glitches, he says. It's also a major endeavor that will be left to others who specialize in those areas.





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