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Termites in the woodwork


Chaffron, S; von Mering, C (2007). Termites in the woodwork. Genome Biology, 8:229.

Abstract

Termites eat and digest wood, but how do they do it? Combining advanced genomics and proteomics techniques, researchers have now shown that microbes found in the termites' hindguts possess just the right tools.
Most animals, from insects to mammals, carry complex communities of microbes in their digestive tracts. In the case of wood-eating termites, these gut microbes are particularly important: they are thought to provide most of the capabilities needed for efficient digestion of wood, which is otherwise a largely inaccessible food source. They also help to compensate for the paucity of some nutrients in wood, for example by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, and they synthesize essential amino acids and other compounds for their hosts [1, 2].
Despite their importance, relatively little is known about gut microbes in termites. This is partly because gut microbes are often difficult to grow in pure culture (as is the case for most microbes sampled from natural environments). Furthermore, a single termite can harbor a very complex assemblage of hundreds of different microbial lineages, whose members may vary widely in terms of abundance and growth rates. Without access to cultivated strains, researchers have to rely on so-called 'cultivation-independent' molecular techniques to analyze such communities. A clever combination of these techniques has now been applied to a section of the termite hindgut, aiming to identify molecular tools used by the microbes in this compartment to degrade wood [3]. Here, we review the procedures and results of this study, and discuss insights into the biological system as well as implications for the generation of biofuels.

Abstract

Termites eat and digest wood, but how do they do it? Combining advanced genomics and proteomics techniques, researchers have now shown that microbes found in the termites' hindguts possess just the right tools.
Most animals, from insects to mammals, carry complex communities of microbes in their digestive tracts. In the case of wood-eating termites, these gut microbes are particularly important: they are thought to provide most of the capabilities needed for efficient digestion of wood, which is otherwise a largely inaccessible food source. They also help to compensate for the paucity of some nutrients in wood, for example by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, and they synthesize essential amino acids and other compounds for their hosts [1, 2].
Despite their importance, relatively little is known about gut microbes in termites. This is partly because gut microbes are often difficult to grow in pure culture (as is the case for most microbes sampled from natural environments). Furthermore, a single termite can harbor a very complex assemblage of hundreds of different microbial lineages, whose members may vary widely in terms of abundance and growth rates. Without access to cultivated strains, researchers have to rely on so-called 'cultivation-independent' molecular techniques to analyze such communities. A clever combination of these techniques has now been applied to a section of the termite hindgut, aiming to identify molecular tools used by the microbes in this compartment to degrade wood [3]. Here, we review the procedures and results of this study, and discuss insights into the biological system as well as implications for the generation of biofuels.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Molecular Life Sciences
08 University Research Priority Programs > Systems Biology / Functional Genomics
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
Language:English
Date:2007
Deposited On:09 Jul 2010 15:55
Last Modified:28 Aug 2017 11:46
Publisher:BioMed Central
ISSN:1474-7596
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1186/gb-2007-8-11-229
PubMed ID:18036268

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