The enormous success of biological zompopas ants, although it is harmful for agriculture in Latin America, is also emerging as a source of potential biological solutions to the problems and challenges facing modern human societies.
This statement is valid for one of the biggest challenges of our time: the consolidation of renewable energy sources against a possible energy crisis. In this sense, the main limitation for converting plant biomass into biofuels is the inability to efficiently degrade the different components of the plant cell wall (lignocellulose), especially those known as recalcitrants.In many processes involve chemical treatments for cellulose hydrolysis of the biggest problems is based on the low yields of the reactions for polysaccharides or the use of agents whose residues pose risks to environmental health (sulfuric acid, for example).
This problem was solved by zompopas thousands of years ago. Each zompopas mature colony consumes on average a quarter ton of dry plant material per year.
Although its symbiotic fungus is unable to degrade cellulose by itself, colonies maintain a community of specialized microorganisms, which are highly efficient in degrading this polysaccharide. Plant cell walls contain the largest reserves of organic carbon on Earth.
This is largely inaccessible to most organisms, being in the form of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. However, certain bacteria and fungi are able to degrade these compounds so that they are usable by other living beings, thus forming an important part of the nutrient cycle in the biosphere.
These organisms, called lignocelulolíticos microbes form symbiotic relationships with animals whose food source is plant biomass. In these interactions microorganisms provide them with their hosts access to nutrients that could not obtain in exchange for a steady stream of plant polymers.
The identification of these microorganisms in the fungal gardens of leaf-cutting is essential to understanding both the process of degradation of cellulose in huge colonies of these insects. Another important aspect is the possibility of using these bacteria lignocellulolytic efficient industrial processes with a view to generate biofuels from plant biomass more efficiently.