Animals, News, Science

Zebra Dung May Be New Fuel Source

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Zebra poop could one day fuel the cars and buses on our streets! Image: William Scot

Thanks to zebra dung, cars could one day run on fuel made from old newspapers.

Today, we use mostly oil and gas to run our cars; oil and gas come from fossilized plants and animals. But fossil fuels are expensive, and there aren’t enough of them. Scientists are looking for cheaper and more plentiful fuels.

David Mullin is a biology professor at a university in New Orleans. He and his students are trying to make a fuel from plants. Plant-based fuels are called “biofuels.”

He knew that if he could break down “cellulose,” he could turn it into a fuel that could run vehicles.

So Mullin and his students went to the zoo. They collected animal droppings—poop. Their hope was that they would find a type of poop that was able to break down the cellulose and create fuel.

Mullin found what he was looking for in the African zebra pen.

Zebra droppings contain special microbes – tiny living cells, which you can’t see with the human eye. These microbes live in the zebra’s stomach; they help it digest the plants it eats.

This zebra belongs to the sub species, Grevy's zebra. There are two other subspecies of zebra, the mountain zebra and the plains zebras. The quagga subspecies is extinct. Image: William Scot

Mullin found that those microbes were able to break down the cellulose in newspaper, creating a type of fuel. Zebra microbes can also break down the cellulose from cotton, twigs and seeds.

Mullin is now working to make the zebra poop turn other sources of cellulose, like wood chips, into fuel. One day, cars and trucks could be running on cheaper, more eco-friendly fuels—thanks to the African zebra.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
David Mullin decided to collect samples of dung hoping that he would find one that could breakdown cellulose. He succeeded. Why is taking risks an important part of being a problem solver?

Reading Prompt: Reading Fluently
Read the following disjointed paragraph to yourself:

“Today,            we            use                 mostly                  oil                and gas          to                        run                  our          cars; oil

and              gas         come                 from                fossilized

plants                   and                   animals.                But                  fossil


fuels                   are                                                  expensive,                                 and                      there                                aren’t                                   enough                            of

them.                      Scientists                                              are                 looking                                      for                           cheaper and                             more                                        plentiful fuels.”

When words are spaced out irregularly, it becomes hard to read smoothly (fluently). When readers are unable to read fluently their understanding is often effected.

Were you able to understand the paragraph? What strategies did you use to help you understand the text?

Read appropriate texts at a sufficient rate and with sufficient expression to convey the sense of the text readily to the reader and an audience (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Junior & Intermediate
read appropriate texts with expression and confidence, adjusting reading
strategies and reading rate to match the form and purpose (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Grammar Feature: Synonyms
When two different words mean the same thing, they are called synonyms. Writers use synonyms to appropriately describe their ideas to their readers. For example, in today’s article two synonyms are used for poop: dung and droppings. But there are many more synonyms for poop, including scientific words, funny words, baby-talk words, and country-specific terms. Hold your breath… what words do you know for poop?