Symbiotic bacteria on the surface of protists in the termite gut contribute to lignocellulose breakdown

July 6, 2015

Confirmed by genomic analysis of single-cell bacteria

RIKEN CSRS and RIKEN BioResource Center undertook joint research involving a single-cell genome analyses of one of the surface symbiotic bacteria of a protist. The analyzed bacteria were found to have various catabolic enzymes for breaking down cellulose and hemicellulose, suggesting that the bacteria could have a symbiotic role, efficiently breaking down, or “pretreating,” lignocellulose before ingestion by the protist.

The ability of the termite gut to efficiently break down lignocellulose is generally thought to be the work of protists, but this research presents the possibility that symbiotic bacteria on the surface of protists also contribute to the breakdown.

Advancing knowledge of how protists and their bacteria coordinate their decomposition systems could be applied to creating efficient lignocellulose breakdown systems. Further advances in single-cell genome sequencing should also shed light on the until-now obscure roles of individual microbes.


Original article
Environmental microbiology doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12945
M. Yuki, H. Kuwahara, M. Shintani, K. Izawa, T. Sato, D. Starns, Y. Hongoh, M. Ohkuma,
"Dominant ectosymbiotic bacteria of cellulolytic protists in the termite gut also have the potential to digest lignocellulose".

Masahiro Yuki
Postdoctoral Researcher
Biomass Research Platform Team