Gribble are tiny marine invertebrates that are able to eat wood but until now it was unknown how they were able to break down the lignin which composes wood. A team of scientists from the University of York studied the gut of the gribble and discovered hemocyanins. These are a group of proteins that transport oxygen in invertebrates in a similar way to haemoglobin in animals, but instead of binding oxygen to iron atoms and producing blood with a red color, it binds oxygen to copper atoms producing a blue color. These proteins are important in the ability to extract sugars from wood and this discovery helps researchers make cheaper and more sustainable ways of converting wood into fuel.
Researchers treated wood with hemocyanins and found that it allowed more than double the amount of sugar to be released which is the same as expensive and energy consuming thermochemical pre-treatments currently used. Gribbles are the only species with a sterile digestive system and use the oxidative capabilities of hemocyanins to attack ligand bonds that hold wood together, making them easier to study. This discovery allows more ecofriendly methods to be produced in order to convert wood into biofuels which could help eliminate many harmful fuel sources we use today such as coal and oil.