The gribble, a lignin-munching ocean crustacean, eyed for enzymes

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In the United Kingdom, scientists at the University of York are probing gribble guts to find better enzymes for producing for biofuels and renewable chemicals.

The gribble is an ocean-dwelling crustacean that eats wood that washes into the sea—as well as wood of boats and piers.

The UY team, led by Professor Simon McQueen-Mason of the Department of Biology, along with colleagues from the Universities of Portsmouth, Cambridge, and Sao Paulo, found that hemocyanin plays a role in helping the sea pest’s gut break down lignin in wood to get at nutrients. Hemocyanin, which transports oxygen in crustaceans, has oxidative qualities that break down lignin bonds.

Professor Neil Bruce says the discovery could, in the long term, help reduce the energy necessary to pretreat wood. “The cellulase-enhancing effect of the hemocyanin was equivalent to that of thermochemical pre-treatments used in industry to allow biomass hydrolysis, suggesting new options for bio-based fuel and chemicals production,” he adds.