Professor Birgitte Ahring (right) and Ph.D. student Malavika Sinha look at a new mutant fungus.

Washington State University researchers have found a way to make jet fuel from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil, and rotting fruit. They used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum, similar to those in aviation fuels.

The fungus produced the most hydrocarbons on a diet of oatmeal, but also created them by eating wheat straw or the non-edible leftovers from corn production. Using fungi for hydrocarbon and biofuels production is better than other methods because they do the work themselves, bypassing multiple complicated chemical processes required by other biofuel production methods. Fungi also have great potential to create the fuel at low cost.

The fungi produce hydrocarbons, large compounds that are costly for the organism to produce, as a protective mechanism. They react to bacterial attacks by increasing their hydrocarbon production.