Saturday, November 8, 2008


It is a shame that I have to resort to self-interest to persuade, because I believe that every species has an intrinsic right to existence. Perhaps a butterfly is simply beautiful to behold, in addition to possessing the wonder of metamorphosis.

We push more and more species to extinction at an ever increasing rate, surpassing the extinctions that marked the end of the dinosaurs. Frogs, corals, large mammals ... the list goes on and on. Sometimes they're gone before they ever get put on a list, before they're known.

Usually when a species stands at the brink some large economic entity looms over it, ready to crush the last of its ancient knowledge, and then I hear people exclaim, "It's just a snail. It's only a fish, we can get those in the store. It's a beetle, fer chrissakes."

It's only a fungus. Sort of like a mush-room. It was just found to be able to create hydrocarbons from cellulose. (The photo is not the kind that makes fuel ... it is just a photo I took that shows an unusual fungi, not your typical stem and cap mushroom.) Right now, to get automobile fuel from corn, the corn has to be converted to sugars first, then to alcohol ... and the ethanol goes into the gas tank of our cars. Perhaps someone who is hungry would rather have eaten the corn than seen it go into my automobile fuel tank.

Cellulose is the part of the plant often thought of as the waste product ... the corn stalks ... the sawdust from the sawmill. But a fungus was just found to be able to convert cellulose into hydrocarbons. It is making scholars reconsider how the oil deposits were formed. And it is making me think that perhaps we could fuel our cars without causing others to starve.

I hope it makes you reconsider saving the life of the last of the many endangered species all over the planet ... not just the whales, the wolves, the tigers and the manatees. But also the moss, the beetles, the snails and the fungi. While not every one can cure your cancer or fuel your car, each one holds knowledge that only they know.

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