Postgraduate Profiles

Ghislaine Small

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Thesis: Studying the Gut Microbiota from Termite Species Endemic to Australia for Biofuel Applications

Termites maintain a complex intestinal symbiosis, which allows them to efficiently digest lignocellulose. Australian termites are not well studied and thus are a source of novel microbial species and enzymes with a potential application in the biofuel industry.

The main aim of this project is therefore to study the gut flora of local termite species in search of enzymes with potential for biofuel production in Western Australia (WA). This will be achieved through a series of controlled feeding experiments with substrates relevant to WA, including wheat crop residue and eucalyptus wood. The natural gut communities, as well as the enzymes they produce, will be compared before and after controlled feeding. The goal is to clone the enzymes of interest into culturable hosts for further testing.

Why my research is important

Climate change and declining fossil fuel resources both contribute to the interest in research into cleaner, renewable sources of energy. Biofuels, which are fuels produced from biomass (living or recently dead biological materials), are one option for the future.

Lignocellulose, the main component of plant cell walls, is the most abundant biomass on Earth and a sustainable source of feedstock for biofuels. Because lignocellulose is difficult to break down, more effective enzymes are needed to make biofuel production economically viable.

Funding

Aug 2013

Aug 2016

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