Discipline: Ecology Environmental and Earth Sciences
Subcategory: Materials Science
Ishara Emerson - Spelman College
Termites are an extremely efficient example of cellulose degradation into simple sugars. Because of this, termites can be used to evaluate this conversion process especially as it relates to a cost and energy efficient model that can be used for the large scale manufacturing of bioethanol from cellulose. The termites used in this study were subterranean termites (Reticulitermes sp.) from the worker caste. In our laboratory we first used three different formulations of Poly (N-vinylcaprolactam) all with different molecular weights. Our research proved that the first formula of Poly (N-vinyl-caprolactam) was preferred by the Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes sp.) and had a low mortality rate. There was then a modification of Poly (N-vinyl caprolactam) with cellulose acetate. Research proved that the modification was not preferred by Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes sp.) so we then concluded that Poly (Nvinyl caprolactam) without the cellulose acetate modification would be a better sample to use as an identifier when determining the inner scaffolding of the termite gut with a fluorescent microscope. The termites were fed one formulation of Poly (N-vinyl-caprolactam) (PVCL). Preliminary research has proved that a termite’s gut is nature’s microbial reactor for digesting wood and making biofuels because they convert 95% of cellulose into simple sugars within 24 hours. This part of the experiment was measured by feeding and the amount consumed, microbial reaction, and the ability to break down the sample efficiently for biofuel production. It has been hypothesized that termites used in our study would efficiently break down the Poly (N-vinyl caprolactam) sample and the fluorescent microscope would identify how this process is done. Preliminary research that has been done identifies the enzymes made when microbes break down the Poly (N-vinyl caprolactam) formulation. These enzymes will then be replicated for a largescale manufacturing model of this process. Further research in this area will enable us to use the identified enzymes to then replicate the process in which Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes sp.) break down wood particles into sugars used in the production of bioethanol under laboratory conditions.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): National Science Foundation
Faculty Advisor: Duane Jackson,