Scientists study panda poo – level 3
It may all be all a load of poo, but scientists say panda excrement could hold the key to developing new biofuels.
Belgian researchers are examining giant panda faeces to try to understand how they can digest tough bamboo. They’re hoping for clues on how to develop new generations of biofuel. While the genetic make-up of endangered pandas is carnivorous, the animals have adapted to a diet consisting almost exclusively of bamboo.
“So it’s a huge feat for this animal to digest something as hard. And also, they only eat certain parts of bamboo. They give them 30 kilograms of bamboo every day, and they eat maybe 10 kilograms. So if I have a piece of bamboo, you’ll see certain parts are eaten and others are not, and we don’t understand very well why.”
Researchers plan to study microorganisms in the animal’s gut, before turning their attention to its digestive tracts.
“So the prime reason we take the poo is we know that it’s the bugs, the microorganisms living in the panda that digest all that tough food. So we’re going to take the excrement, we’re going to put that in the reactors and see how the digestion works.”
According to the team composed of Belgian, Italian and Chinese scientists, the toughness of bamboo stalks could be potentially helpful for studying the processing of fibrous material.
The results may point to new, cheaper, ways to produce so-called second generation biofuels made from plants and biomass.
Difficult words: excrement (poo), faeces (poo), digest (to change food into energy which your body can use), clue (a piece of information), carnivorous (meat-eating), huge (very big), feat (an impressive achievement), gut (the tube through which food passes from your stomach), bug (a microorganism, a bacterium), stalk (a long narrow part of a plant that supports leaves), biomass (energy from plants).
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