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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Apr;14(4):1077-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02688.x. Epub 2012 Jan 9.

The microbial ecology of anaerobic cellulose degradation in municipal waste landfill sites: evidence of a role for fibrobacters.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.


Cellulose is reputedly the most abundant organic polymer in the biosphere, yet despite the fundamental role of cellulolytic microorganisms in global carbon cycling and as potential sources of novel enzymes for biotechnology, their identity and ecology is not well established. Cellulose is a major component of landfill waste and its degradation is therefore a key feature of the anaerobic microbial decomposition process. Here, we targeted a number of taxa containing known cellulolytic anaerobes (members of the bacterial genus Fibrobacter, lineages of Clostridium clusters I, III, IV and XIV, and anaerobic fungi of the Neocallimastigales) in landfill leachate and colonized cellulose 'baits' via PCR and quantitative PCR (qPCR). Fibrobacter spp. and Clostridium clusters III, IV and XIV were detected in almost all leachate samples and cluster III and XIV clostridia were the most abundant (1-6% and 1-17% of total bacterial 16S rRNA gene copies respectively). Two landfill leachate microcosms were constructed to specifically assess those microbial communities that colonize and degrade cellulose substrates in situ. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of colonized cotton revealed extensive cellulose degradation in one microcosm, and Fibrobacter spp. and Clostridium cluster III represented 29% and 17%, respectively, of total bacterial 16S rRNA gene copies in the biofilm. Visible cellulose degradation was not observed in the second microcosm, and this correlated with negligible relative abundances of Clostridium cluster III and Fibrobacter spp. (≤ 0.1%), providing the first evidence that the novel fibrobacters recently detected in landfill sites and other non-gut environments colonize and degrade cellulose substrates in situ.

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