Who would have thought that a small isopod could be so chibi-cute, have a fun name, and be potentially useful?
The gribble (Limnoria quadripunctata) is an aquatic relative of the woodlouse (pillbug), that eats tunnels along the surfaces of wooden objects, such as driftwood, boats, or piers. This latter habit makes the gribble generally unwanted. However, recent news describes how scientists at the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Portsmouth and the University of York have been examining the guts of these wee creatures to identify digestive enzymes.
When termites eat wood, they don’t really digest the wood theselves; they have bacteria in their guts that break down the cellulose into smaller molecules. But gribbles are able to digest wood directly. If the enzymes can be easily produced, then the gribbles would be an inspiration for the biofuel industry, because any kind of material could be used, even insoluble stuff such as straw or willow.
Bugs to the rescue, again. Once more, they did it first!