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Book chapter2023Open access

Microbial degradation of lignocellulose in natural and engineered systems - from the smallest to the biggest bioreactor


This chapter compares the lignocellulose degradation strategies of two model systems, where the word “degradation” is defined as a hydrolysis (i.e. depolymerization) and further conversion through fermentation of the released products. The first model is an engineered microbe-driven process —anaerobic digestion. The second is shaped by nature-ingenuity — the lignocellulose-degrading animal gut, with a special focus given here to the insect and, in particular, the termite gut system. We will first introduce the context of industrial biomass processing and describe the main paths for lignocellulose degradation of the two systems, focusing on microbes and their hydrolytic strategies. Second, we will compare the two systems at the different organizational levels, starting from the system design, further going through the main microbial communities, and ending at the carbohydrate-active enzymes involved in plant biomass degradation. The massive development and extensive use of the next generation sequencing technologies in the last decades has allowed for in-depth insights into the microbial structure, diversity, dynamics, and functioning of these until recently unexplored and misunderstood lignocellulolytic systems. With this knowledge, the result of billions of years of evolution could help us develop future industrial applications of biomass conversion into energy and molecules of interest. To finish the chapter, we will go beyond the “standard” lignocellulose utilization and highlight current trends and future challenges and developments.

Published in

Title: Microbial Fermentations in Nature and as Designed Processes
ISBN: 9781119849971, eISBN: 9781119850007
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons