Published October 4, 2021 | Version v1
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Anaerobic lignocellulolytic microbial consortium derived from termite gut: enrichment, lignocellulose degradation and community dynamics


Background: Lignocellulose is the most abundant renewable carbon resource that can be used for biofuels and commodity chemicals production. The ability of complex microbial communities present in natural environments that are specialized in biomass deconstruction can be exploited to develop lignocellulose bioconversion processes. Termites are among the most abundant insects on earth and play an important role in lignocellulose decomposition. Although their digestive microbiome is recognized as a potential reservoir of microorganisms producing lignocellulo‐ lytic enzymes, the potential to enrich and maintain the lignocellulolytic activity of microbial consortia derived from termite gut useful for lignocellulose biorefinery has not been assessed. Here, we assessed the possibility of enriching a microbial consortium from termite gut and maintaining its lignocellulose degradation ability in controlled anaerobic bioreactors.

Results: We enriched a termite gut‐derived consortium able to transform lignocellulose into carboxylates under anaerobic conditions. To assess the impact of substrate natural microbiome on the enrichment and the maintenance of termite gut microbiome, the enrichment process was performed using both sterilized and non‐sterilized straw. The enrichment process was carried out in bioreactors operating under industrially relevant aseptic conditions. Two termite gut‐derived microbial consortia were obtained from Nasutitermes ephratae by sequential batch culture on raw wheat straw as the sole carbon source. Analysis of substrate loss, carboxylate production and microbial diversity showed that regardless of the substrate sterility, the diversity of communities selected by the enrichment process strongly changed compared to that observed in the termite gut. Nevertheless, the community obtained on sterile straw displayed higher lignocellulose degradation capacity; it showed a high xylanase activity and an initial prefer‐ ence for hemicellulose.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates that it is possible to enrich and maintain a microbial consortium derived from termite gut microbiome in controlled anaerobic bioreactors, producing useful carboxylates from raw biomass. Our results suggest that the microbial community is shaped both by the substrate and the conditions that prevail during enrichment. However, when aseptic conditions are applied, it is also affected by the biotic pressure exerted by microorganisms naturally present in the substrate and in the surrounding environment. Besides the efficient lignocel‐ lulolytic consortium enriched in this study, our results revealed high levels of xylanase activity that can now be further explored for enzyme identification and overexpression for biorefinery purposes.


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Zelcor – Zero Waste Ligno-Cellulosic Biorefineries by Integrated Lignin Valorisation 720303
European Commission