UI Researcher's Study On Termite Bacteria May Aid In Greenhouse Gas Understanding

e scientists found that these spirochetes consume hydrogen, a key intermediate produced during the digestion of plant fiber. The spirochetes nourish the termites by converting the hydrogen into acetate -- an excellent food source for both termites and cows. In cows, the spirochetes apparently are absent or unable to convert the hydrogen into acetate because such hydrogen is converted into methane.

"Comparing them mouthful to mouthful, the termite is more efficient than the cow," Leadbetter said. "These spirochetes help to explain this. By conducting basic science we have learned things about the termite that may have productive applications down the road. For instance, other researchers might be stimulated by our results to find novel ways to improve the nutrition of cattle."

Leadbetter also noted that the spirochetes' beneficial role in termites contrasts with the notorious roles of other spirochetes as "germs" causing syphilis and Lyme disease. By performing studies on diverse subjects such as the termite gut, scientists hope to continue to discover new microbes that carry out previously unappreciated, but beneficial roles in nature.


Contact: Jennifer Cronini
University of Iowa

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