Why Energy Researchers Are Interested in a Tiny Wood-Eating Pest You’ve Never Heard Of

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Say hello to the gribbles. With their translucent bodies and circular black eyes, these minute marine crustaceans are like sheet ghosts—only crunchier—who burrow through pieces of wood gliding around the world’s waters. There, they systematically feed on the sugars lodged within planks and logs, and are perennial thorns in the sides of ships and docks . But these pests may prove essential to stifling climate change, as their creative, unique digestive systems provide a model for harnessing clean energy. A new study, published today in the journal Nature Communications , builds on years of research to detail how gribbles manage to liberate the nutrients hiding out in wood. Their natural mechanism could provide a blueprint for technology that does the same, says Katrin Besser, a biologist at the University of York and lead author of the study. According to Besser, gribbles became interesting to researchers because of their unusually sterile digestive systems. The crustaceans don’t rely on bacteria to help them digest, as just about every other animal does. Rather, they produce the necessary enzymes themselves. The question researchers wanted to answer, says Besser, was how gribbles can “do this without any help …” A simpler system, involving just […]

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