What a wonderful world it would be if we could find uses for the useless. I have no use for fire ants or kudzu. KudzuFire is the name of school project to find a use for both.
Any one who has ever been stung by fire ants must have wondered, after killing as many of the little buggers as it humanly possible, is there any thing fire ants could do that is useful? Could humans for instance eat fire ants?
Before you get too grossed out, considered that Columbians have been eating what are called big butt ants for some time now. In fact there was a bit of a craze and the ants were imported for consumption by some European chefs.
However, you can’t just eat any ant you come across. You need to know that the ant is not toxic to people. Some ants secrete formic acid which is a definite irritant to humans.
So your mission should you decide to accept it is to safely and securely gather a large quantity of fire ants and puree them. Then do a chemical analysis to see what the basic components of the ants are. Determine, without tasting it of course, whether the puree would be toxic to humans. Some ways of determining this would be to measure the ph of the puree. Is it acidic or basic? How do you determine what’s in the puree? That’s where the chemistry comes in. Find out what chemicals, proteins and sugars are in the puree. Do some research to find out whether or not such a mixture would provide nutrition for humans. Some people say that meat requires too much energy and creates too much pollution. From your studies of fire ants do you think that insects might make an acceptable meat substitute? Can you get sufficient protein in your diet from eating insects?
Fire ants are the tip of the iceberg in something I will dub KudzuFire. The purpose of KudzuFire would be a start a world wide movement to find uses for the useless. Anything that people find is a pest in their environment–like the southern climbing vine called kudzu–are excellent candidates for the program.
Image via Wikipedia
Now kudzu, being a climbing vine can be tested as a medicine, or as food, fuel or fiber. Ideally it would be tested for all these purposes. One basic method to test the vine is to gather large quantities of it and grind it up or puree it like you did the fire ants. Fortunately you don’t have to worry about the kudzu escaping and biting your little sister. There are a number of interesting tests you can do with the crushed kudzu. One of the first should be to test the ph to make sure it’s safe to handle or to at lest to tell you how to handle it. Wear gloves and treat the kudzu as toxic until ph testing tells you other wise. Find out what the main constituents of the plant are. How much water does the kudzu contain? What is the boiling point of kudzu juice? If you boil the juice away what is the consistency, color and chemistry of residue? It would be interesting if you could find that a certain amount of volatile liquids were produced by crushing the kudzu vine. Depending on the amount and chemical make up, a volatile liquid could be used as fuel. If you just observe kudzu in the wild, it looks like an ordinary plant that “breathes” in the same way any other plant does. Suppose that kudzu is doing something other than taking in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. How would you determine that? What experiment would you use to find out if this was happening? How would you make certain that the atmosphere around the plant was not contaminating your experiment? If it turned out that a plant produced even minute amounts of hydrogen, methane or some other hydrocarbon, this could be a source of renewable energy. There are processes that produce what is known as cellulosic ethanol from just about any plant. Is kudzu a good candidate for that process or not? If not why not?