Lignocellulose degradation

There is a large body of literature on the decomposition of wood and cellulose by termite gut flagellates, which are essential for the digestion of lignocellu-lose in lower termite (Radek 1999). By contrast, the majority of prokaryotes in termite guts do not seem to contribute to polymer degradation. They appear to be involved mainly in the fermentation of soluble metabolites released into the gut, which are derived either directly from the food by the digestive enzymes or from the fermentative activity of the intestinal protozoa (Breznak 2000; Ohkuma 2003; Brune 2005).

Lignocellulose is not only difficult to degrade, but it is also an extremely nitrogen-poor substrate that lacks most of the essential nutrients required by the termite, such as amino acids, vitamins, and sterols. The capacity of the intestinal prokaryotes to fix dinitrogen, to assimilate nitrate and ammonia, and to synthesize those amino acids and vitamins essential for the host makes them also an important source of nutrition (Breznak 2000; Machida et al. 2001). The microbial biomass produced in the hindgut is accessed via proctodeal feeding, which serves both the transfer of symbionts among individual termites and nitrogen cycling by subsequent digestion of microbial biomass in the midgut (Fujita et al. 2001).

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