Hidden Lives of Wood Decay Fungi Uncovered by Genome Sequencing
Wood decay fungi are common inhabitants of forest ecosystems where they play a pivotal role recycling carbon and other nutrients. For decades, considerable attention has been focused on wood decay fungi because of their unique ability to efficiently deconstruct woody plant cell walls and because certain species are the principal agents that destroy wood in service.
Decay fungi are difficult experimental systems, however, and progress has been slow. Forest Service researchers recently sequenced the genomes of 12 species, a major advancement that opens the way for future wood decay fungi research. Forest Service collaborative efforts with the U.S. Department of Energy and 28 laboratories from 10 countries have generated two landmark publications and opened the way for future wood decay fungi research.
Researchers sequenced the genomes of 12 species, each predicted to contain at least 10,000 genes, and examined the expression of these genes when the fungi colonized wood. These investigations revealed that a complex repertoire of proteins were involved in the deconstruction of key polymers within wood cell walls, including cellulose, hemicellulose, and the more recalcitrant toward breakdown lignin.
The identified enzymes are of particular importance to biorefinery applications where the central goal is often conversion of woody biomass to small molecular weight, high-value products. Analyses also provided explanations for efficient and selective depolymerization of lignin, a longstanding obstacle in the biorefinery area. Thus, a framework for future research on ligninolysis has been opened. In a similar way, identification of genes involved in the decay of wood in buildings offers new opportunities for the development of environmentally benign control practices and preservatives.
Forest Service Partners