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‘The Spore’ alter ego: Gliocladium roseum

OK, so technically it’s not a plant (it’s a reddish fungus), but under limited oxygen conditions Gliocladium roseum has been found to produce hydrocarbon vapors molecularly similar to those of diesel fuel. Recently discovered in the Patagonia rainforest by Montana State University professor Gary Strobell, it’s the first organism known to produce such a wide diversity of the medium-length hydrocarbon chains used in gas tanks and jet engines.

Instead of waiting on millions of years of heat and pressure to convert organic material into oil, Gliocladium roseum can produce the fuel components in real time. In fact, one of the more appealing aspects of using this microbe as a biofuel source is its ability to grow on cellulose, the most common molecule on earth. This means almost any plant waste — crop, wood or otherwise — could be food for this fuel-fabricating fungus. Of course, the time when drivers may be able to pump “myco-desiel” (aka fungal diesel) into their tanks is a long way off. Researchers are still trying to identify and amplify the genetic enzyme behind the “diesel” production and engineer the best means of converting the vapor into a liquid.