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

the carbon cycle again. The ancestor of all wood decay fungi we have today was a white rot and it was fungi derived from this ancestor which kick started the carbon cycle and lignocellulose decomposition. The brown rots evolved later from a white rot ancestry and, because they circumvent the lignin and go straight for the hemicellulose and cellulose, they are considered more efficient and is probably why they have been able to dominate boreal forests in more recent times."

The analyses of the 48.2-million nucleotide genome of S. lacrymans not only allowed the team to compare the gene families involved in the mechanisms by which brown rot break down cellulose and white rot fungi break down both cellulose and lignin, but also how these processes differ within each category. For example, Eastwood noted that the chemistry Serpula uses is slightly different from the chemistry that goes on in Postia, though in a larger sense between white rot and brown rot, "what we describe here is a refinement of the genes, what genes are absolutely necessary to break down cellulose," he said. "Part of that is the machinery to break down wood became simpler since brown rot fungi are not breaking down lignin."

Study senior author Sarah Watkinson of the University of Oxford emphasized the role of brown rot fungi in the global carbon cycle, noting that a third of the carbon sequestered in the soil of boreal forests are composed of the wood residues after the fungi break down the cellulose. "When it grows in forests, it decays the wood and leaves behind the lignin," she said. "We're very interested in what puts carbon into the soil as the residues of brown rot fungi contribute up to 30 percent of carbon in conifer forest soils, and conifer forests are a very large biome in the world and one of the largest carbon sinks on land. The activity of brown rot is very significant in global carbon cycling and I think that hasn't really been appreciated before."


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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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