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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2015 Sep;91(9):fiv103. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiv103. Epub 2015 Aug 30.

Biogas production from coumarin-rich plants--inhibition by coumarin and recovery by adaptation of the bacterial community.

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Department of Environmental Microbiology, UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Analytical Chemistry, UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, 04318, Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Environmental Microbiology, UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, 04318 Leipzig, Germany


Plants like sweet clover (Melilotus spp.) are not suitable as fodder for cattle because of harmful effects of the plant secondary metabolite coumarin. As an alternative usage, the applicability of coumarin-rich plants as substrates for biogas production was investigated. When coumarin was added to continuous fermentation processes codigesting grass silage and cow manure, it caused a strong inhibition noticeable as decrease of biogas production by 19% and increase of metabolite concentrations to an organic acids/alkalinity ratio higher than 0.3(gorganic acids) gCaCO3 (-1). Microbial communities of methanogenic archaea were dominated by the genera Methanosarcina (77%) and Methanoculleus (11%). This community composition was not influenced by coumarin addition. The bacterial community analysis unraveled a divergence caused by coumarin addition correlating with the anaerobic degradation of coumarin and the recovery of the biogas process. As a consequence, biogas production resumed similar to the coumarin-free control with a biogas yield of 0.34 LN g(volatile solids) (-1) and at initial metabolite concentrations (∼ 0.2 g(organic acids) gCaCO3 (-1)). Coumarin acts as inhibitor and as substrate during anaerobic digestion. Hence, coumarin-rich plants might be suitable for biogas production, but should only be used after adaptation of the microbial community to coumarin.


anaerobic digestion; continuous stirred tank reactor (cstr); energy crops; mcra gene; plant secondary metabolites; t-rflp fingerprinting

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