X-ray scattering reveals two mechanisms of cellulose microfibril degradation by filamentous fungi

Dimitrios Floudas, Luigi Gentile, Erika Andersson, Spyros G. Kanellopoulos, Anders Tunlid, Per Persson, Ulf Olsson

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Mushroom-forming fungi (Agaricomycetes) employ enzymatic and nonenzymatic cellulose degradation mechanisms, the latter presumably relying on Fenton-generated radicals. The effects of the two mechanisms on the cellulose microfibrils structure remain poorly understood. We examined cellulose degradation caused by litter decomposers and wood decomposers, including brown-rot and white-rot fungi and one fungus with uncertain wood decay type, by combining small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering. We also examined the effects of commercial enzymes and Fenton-generated radicals on cellulose using the same method. We detected two main degradation or modification mechanisms. The first characterized the mechanism used by most fungi and resembled enzymatic cellulose degradation, causing simultaneous microfibril thinning and decreased crystalline cellulose. The second mechanism was detected in one brown-rot fungus and one litter decomposer and was characterized by patchy amorphogenesis of crystalline cellulose without substantial thinning of the fibers. This pattern did not resemble the effect of Fenton-generated radicals, suggesting a more complex mechanism is involved in the destruction of cellulose crystallinity by fungi. Furthermore, our results showed a mismatch between decay classifications and cellulose degradation patterns and that even within litter decomposers two degradation mechanisms were found, suggesting higher functional diversity under current ecological classifications of fungi.
IMPORTANCE Cellulose degradation by fungi plays a fundamental role in terrestrial carbon cycling, but the mechanisms by which fungi cope with the crystallinity of cellulose are not fully understood. We used X-ray scattering to analyze how fungi, a commercial enzyme mix, and a Fenton reaction-generated radical alter the crystalline structure of cellulose. Our data revealed two mechanisms involved in crystalline cellulose degradation by fungi: one that results in the thinning of the cellulose fibers, resembling the enzymatic degradation of cellulose, and one that involves amorphogenesis of crystalline cellulose by yet-unknown pathways, resulting in a patchy-like degradation pattern. These results pave the way to a deeper understanding of cellulose degradation and the development of novel ways to utilize crystalline cellulose.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00995-22
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Aug 23

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Microbiology

Free keywords

  • Fenton chemistry
  • Biodegradation
  • Brown-rot fungus
  • Cellulose
  • Filamentous fungi
  • Litter decomposer
  • White-rot fungus
  • X-ray scattering


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