February 8, 2009

Rot points to better biofuel production

Figure out how brown rot wreaks havoc on wood and you've got a potentially efficient way of producing biofuel.

A detailed genetic analysis of the brown rot fungus Postia placenta by a large, international research team has unlocked the mystery of how the fungus so efficiently breaks down wood.

Fungi break down the cell walls of trees, shrubs and grasses to access nutrients in the plants. Most fungi produce enzymes that digest cellulose and lignin -- the two main components of the cell walls -- but brown rot has evolved a different strategy. It produces iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide, which combine to form highly reactive chemicals that break down cellulose.

However, brown rot does not break down lignin. Instead, it breaks through plant cell walls, digests the cellulose and strips out the carbohydrates that are bound to the lignin, leaving the lignin largely intact.

Researchers are developing ways of breaking down cellulose and lignin in order to make biofuels from wood, grass and agricultural waste, but they're having difficulty finding efficient ways to break down lignin. The knowledge gained from studying brown rot could lead to simpler, less expensive ways of producing biofuel from non-food crops.

Research paper:
Genome, Transcriptome, and Secretome Analysis of Wood Decay Fungus Postia Placenta Supports Unique Mechanisms of Lignocellulose Conversion
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online February 4, 2009

Researcher's homepage:
Dan Cullen

Related stories and briefs:
Fungi could feed biofuel production -- related research the study

Back to ERN February 9/16, 2009



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