When the word “termite” is mentioned, “pest control” almost always comes to mind for most of us.  But do you know that the same capability that made termites pests to our homes also contributes to our well-being?

In nature, termites break down wood that may otherwise remain as wood for a very long time.  Imagine a world where dead trees and other plant materials pile up and ecosystem processes hampered because no animal is capable of digesting cellulose.  Decomposing wood makes nutrients that are locked in trees available for use by other plants.  Because nutrients are finite resources, nutrient cycling is essential for the overall health of our environment.  This makes many ecosystems dependent on termites for proper functioning.

Termite Gut Microbial Bioreactors

Figure courtesy of genomicsgtl.energy.gov


Beyond decomposition, termites are also being eyed to be sources of enzymes to power efficient bioreactors that would convert biomass into energy.  The United States Department of Energy has been aggressively funding investigations on termites and the microbial communities in their guts.  Their collaborative work with research institutes and technology companies may make this new source of renewable energy possible within our lifetime.


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