New research has uncovered certain types of bacteria in panda faeces that break down plant matter into ethanol, which can then be used as a fuel.
The discovery was made by researchers working with Ya Ya and Le Le, two pandas housed in Memphis Zoo in Tennessee.
The scientists had been studying bacteria in the animal’s faeces as, uniquely, pandas possess a carnivore’s digestive system yet feed on a diet composed almost entirely of bamboo.
Possible ‘solution to search for sustainable new sources of energy’
Speaking on the findings, Dr Ashli Brown from Mississippi State University, said: “We have discovered microbes in panda faeces might actually be a solution to the search for sustainable new sources of energy.”
She added: “The time from eating to defecation is comparatively short in the panda, so their microbes have to be very efficient to get nutritional value out of the bamboo.
“Efficiency is key when it comes to biofuel production — that’s why we focused on the microbes in the giant panda.”
An incredibly specialised digestive system
In the wild, pandas survive predominantly on a diet of bamboo, but have a digestive system in line with that of a carnivore.
This means the animal has evolved to digest and process nutrient-poor food, such as bamboo, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As a result the bacteria found within the animal is extremely efficient when it comes to breaking down plant matter into sugars which are subsequently fermented by other bacteria.
The research was presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Indianapolis.