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Breaking down cellulose without blasting lignin
Date:7/14/2011

WALNUT CREEK, Calif.Feared by realtors and homeowners alike, dry rot due to the fungus Serpula lacrymans causes millions of dollars worth of damage to homes and buildings around the world. This brown rot fungus' capacity to break down the cellulose in wood led to its selection for sequencing by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in 2007, with the goal of identifying the enzymes involved in the degradation process and using the information to improve cellulosic biofuels production.

As reported online July 14 in Science Express, an international team of scientists including DOE JGI researchers compared the genome of Serpula lacrymans, the second brown rot fungus to have its genome sequenced, against 10 other published fungal genomes. The DOE JGI sequenced seven of these genomes among them Postia placenta, the first brown rot fungus sequenced. The analysis not only allowed researchers to understand the chemical reactions involved in the mechanism by which Serpula breaks down cellulose, it also sheds light on the role of brown rot fungi in the development of the largest terrestrial ecosystem the subarctic cool climate boreal forest and therefore the fungi's role in the global carbon cycle.

"It's one of those fungi that everybody knows. It has such an aggressive form of cellulose breakdown," said study first author Dan Eastwood of Swansea University. He pointed out that the ability of wood-decaying fungi in general to break down lignocellulose is linked to the co-evolution of boreal forests and fungi. "It is also important to realize the role of these fungi in the natural environment," he said. "For example, if you go back far enough in time to the period when trees were developing, there was no way to break lignocellulose down, which led to the coal seams we tap today. When the fungi figured out how to break down lignocellulose, the coevolution of the fungi and trees kick-started
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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