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Termite digestive-tract microorganisms: A resource to fuel the future

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With increasing attention toward generating cost-effective biochemical conversion methods for producing biofuels, it helps to follow the leaders who have perfected the process. The mere Reticulitermes flavipes, or eastern subterranean termite, a famous feaster of lignocellulosic plant materials (e.g., decaying wood), relies on various microbial symbionts within its intestinal tract, such as Diplosphaera colotermitum TAV2 in the hindgut, to transform its carbon-rich diet into useable nutrition—its very own biofuel. However, there is a gap in understanding why TAV2, a member of the bacteria phylum Verrucomicrobia, is so at home in the seemingly inhospitable termite hindgut. Like other microbes in the termite gut, TAV2 can live in environments with much less oxygen than the 20% O2 concentration found in the atmosphere.

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