Termite gut bacteria will accelerate biofuel production

In straw and other dried plant material, the three main polymers are cellulose, hemicellulose and

lignin - woven into a complex three-dimensional structure.The first two polymers are polysaccharides that can be broken down into sugars and then converted into fuel in bioreactors. Lignin, on the other hand, is an aromatic polymer that can be converted into useful industrial chemicals. Fungal enzymes can degrade lignin, which is the most difficult of the three polymers to degrade. Scientists are looking for bacterial enzymes that make production easier.

Researchers have studied the process by which woody insect microbes break down lignin in wheat straw, and figured out how they change this material.

Scientists have added 500 intestines of eachfour higher termite species to separate anaerobic bioreactors, and then wheat straw as the only carbon source. After 20 days, they compared the composition of the digested straw with the untreated straw. It was found that all gut microbiomes degrade lignin (up to 37%), although they more efficiently break down hemicellulose (51%) and cellulose (41%). The lignin remaining in the straw also changed - some of its subunits were oxidized.

The researchers suggested that effectivethe degradation of hemicelluloses by microbes could also increase the degradation of lignin crosslinked to polysaccharides. In future work, the scientists want to identify the microorganisms, enzymes and lignin degradation pathways responsible for these effects, which could be used in lignocellulose processing plants.

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