Zoo pandas help biofuel researchers

In this photo taken May 2, 2013, Lin Ping, a four-year-old Panda chews bamboo at Chiang Mai zoo in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand. (AP Photo/Wichsi Taprieu)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- The giant pandas at the Memphis Zoo are attracting attention from onlookers and researchers.

Ya Ya and Le Le have become one of the most popular attractions for visitors of the zoo, but they are getting attention from biofuel researchers at Mississippi State University.

The Commercial Appeal reports researchers are studying how bacteria helps the pandas digest bamboo plants, which have tough cellulose. They say they hope to find a better mechanism for processing plant materials to produce biofuels, like ethanol, without the use of edible corn or soybeans.

Lead researcher Ashli Brown said she and her research assistants retrieve a variety of bacteria strains by collecting panda waste and culturing it in the lab in order to continue the strains.

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