New bacteria found in the gut of a WA termite could be used to develop biofuels, according to research by a University of WA honours student.

Ghislaine Small, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, said she collected termites from Shenton Park and the Perth Hills and analysed the bacteria in their digestive system. She said in one termite species found only in WA, Tumulitermes westraliensis, more than half the gut was made up of unknown species.

Ms Small said it was estimated that there were several hundred species in a termite gut so many new species of bacteria could potentially be discovered.

She said researchers were interested in testing enzymes in the bacteria with the potential for use in biofuel production.

Ms Small said she chose to study two very different termite species whose gut bacteria had never been looked at before. "The first one is called Coptotermes acinaciformis, which is the worst pest species in Australia," she said. "It's found all over the country and it causes a fair bit of damage because it eats wood."

University of WA molecular biologist Kate Howell, who advised Ms Small on the project, said one of the challenges in the biofuel industry was breaking down plant material, which could be very tough, using enzymes called cellulases.

The West Australian

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