In 2008, I did a story for the Atlantic about researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute who were studying how termites digest wood. Specifically, they wanted to find genes or enzymes among the 500 or so symbiotic microbes in their guts that could then be adapted to make fuel from cellulose–aka grassoline. To do the story, I had to get up to speed on metagenomics–which is a technique involving sequencing the genes of a microbial community all at once and then sorting out the information (and the individuals) afterwards. As it turned out the story–not to mention the termite–was a lot more complicated than I first suspected.

And here is the whole article about the bright future of termite guts.

I ended getting sucked into termites as a topic. Later that year geneticist  Phil Hugenholtz invited me along on a termite safari in Arizona.

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