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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1981 Sep;42(3):526-32.

Microbiology of wetwood: importance of pectin degradation and clostridium species in living trees.

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Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706.


Wetwood samples from standing trees of eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), black poplar (Populus nigra), and American elm (Ulmus americana) contained high numbers of aerobic and anaerobic pectin-degrading bacteria (10 to 10 cells per g of wood). High activity of polygalacturonate lyase (</=0.5 U/ml) was also detected in the fetid liquid that spurted from wetwood zones in the lower trunk when the trees were bored. A prevalent pectin-degrading obligately anaerobic bacterium isolated from these wetwoods was identified as Clostridium butyricum. Pectin decomposition by C. butyricum strain 4P1 was associated with an inducible polygalacturonate lyase and pectin methylesterase, the same types of pectinolytic activity expressed in the wetwood of these trees. The pH optimum of the extracellular polygalacturonate lyase was alkaline (near pH 8.5). In vitro tests with sapwood samples from a conifer (Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii) showed that tori in membranes of bordered pits are degraded by pure cultures of strain 4P1, polygalacturonate lyase enzyme preparations of strain 4P1, and mixed methanogenic cultures from the tree samples of wetwood. These results provide evidence that pectin in xylem tissue is actively degraded by C. butyricum strain 4P1 via polygalacturonate lyase activity. The importance of pectin degradation by bacteria, including Clostridium species, appears paramount in the formation and maintenance of the wetwood syndrome in certain living trees.

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