According to Leadbetter, the termite holds the key to unlocking all of this potential. But understanding how to do it won’t be easy.
People have enlisted the help of microbes before, but never with this degree of complexity. “For 6,000 years,” he said, “we’ve been making beer, wine and bread using yeast,” which is a single-cell organism in the kingdom of fungi. “But as we move into this next stage of wanting to turn more complex materials into something we might use, it’s not going to be an organism. It’s not going to be 10 organisms. It’s going to be a microbial community involving hundreds of organisms and thousands of enzymes.” He estimated that it could take from 10 to 25 years before we understand the process well enough to harness it.