Bug turns newspaper into fuel

The Internet is delivering a slow death to newspapers, but many of us still have piles of the stuff around the house that a microbe called TU-103 will convert to butanol, a biofuel that is nearly as energy dense as unleaded gasoline.

“This is a bacterium that we isolated straight out of nature,” David Mullin, a cell and molecular biologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, told me today.

In fact, it was isolated from a truckload of feces he and colleagues collected from grass-eating animals at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, figuring their intestinal tracts likely harbored a naturally occurring microbe that had the qualities they sought.