The secret of this little marsupial’s digestion led to the discovery of one the major oil breakthroughs of the century…
The question nagged Australian scientists for some time. Just HOW could the Australian Koala (which is actually not related to the “bear” family) not only eat but also thrive on eucalyptus leaves that are very poisonous to most creatures?
Research indicated that the average koala eats about a pound of eucalyptus leaves a day, from which they derive most of their liquid and nourishment. Other creatures avoid eucalyptus like the plague. It also appears the Koala has a very selective palate for specific eucalyptus leaves, choosing only those with a mix of less than 55% water and 2% essential oils.
Researchers discovered that the secret to the Koala’s ability was all in the Koala’s gut. Koalas possess unique microbes in their intestines that can break down the “toxic” oils in the leaves so they can be used as the Koala’s cellular food. These intestinal microbes can survive and thrive in the normally poisonous and “unnatural” environment created by the oils.
Australian innovator and inventor Noel Carroll’s natural curiosity and genius led him to sense possibilities concerning the effects of microbes on other oils, and to fund a research program with the prestigious Baas Becking Laboratory.
Professor Alan Sheehy was selected to do the necessary research and provide the microbiology for the project. Subsequently, the Project was transferred to the University of Canberra. Over a period of several months the research project resulted in further study of microbes and their relationship with crude oil. As time passed, it became more evident to both Professor Sheehy and Noel Carroll that certain bacteria (microbes) could be useful in recovering oil trapped in petroleum reservoirs.
Over a period of years and $20 million of additional investment later, their technology has been and continues to be used to successfully to recover trapped oil from oil fields all over the world! This remarkable marsupial may just change the oil industry and the koala, rightfully so, is the “official” OOR mascot.