Biotechnology

Fungal Assistance

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Science  28 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5982, pp. 1079
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5982.1079-c
CREDIT: R. J. MURPHY

Concerns about global warming associated with fossil fuel combustion have spurred great interest in developing alternative fuel feedstocks from renewable biomass. In order to produce liquid fuels and commodity chemical compounds from biomass, it is necessary to break down polymeric cellulose into its constituent six-carbon sugar building blocks. The cellulose in wood is mixed thoroughly with other materials (lignin and hemicellulose), and vigorous research continues to explore what sort of pretreatment methods most efficiently separate it out before the depolymerization is conducted. Approaches range from the application of acids or bases to microbial digestion. Ray et al. now show that a 3- to 4-week treatment of sapwood from pine trees with brown rot fungi—specifically, Coniophora puteana and Postia placenta—significantly enhances the subsequent release of sugars by cellulose enzymes. Controls with other types of fungi proved less effective, bolstering previous findings that brown rot may be a boon for woody biomass processing.

Biomass Bioenergy 34, 10.1016/j.biombioe.2010.03.015 (2010).

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