It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. In this case, the “job” is the breakdown of lignin, the structural molecule that gives plants strength and rigidity. One of the most abundant terrestrial polymers (large molecules made of repeating subunits called monomers) on Earth, lignin surrounds valuable plant fibers and other molecules that could be converted into biofuels and other commodity chemicals – if we could only get past that rigid plant cell wall.
These fungi are part of the genus Lentinula, which have evolved to decompose hardwoods on every continent besides Europe and Antarctica. Lentinula mushrooms are white rot fungi, belonging to an elite group of decomposers that can break down all of wood’s components — cellulose, hemicellulose, and the toughest molecule, lignin. Understanding Lentinula genomes and their evolution could provide strategies for converting plant waste into sugars for biofuel production.
Within a forest’s soil, a microbiome of bacteria, viruses and fungi process carbon and nitrogen, paving the way for future plants and trees to grow. However, fire changes the microbes within the soil. Recently, JGI collaborators worked to understand which microbes in the soil persist after a wildfire — and why they thrive. Their results appear in Nature Microbiology.
In Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, the University of East Anglia, and the JGI have explored the genome of the polar algae Microglena sp. YARC. The green alga harbors extra genes for proteins requiring zinc, and those genes turn out to be key for the phytoplankton’s ability to live in cold polar waters. Learn more here on the JGI website.
In Nature Communications, an international team involving researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIPZ), the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) and the JGI uncovered associations between plant roots and fungi that can help or harm plant host health. They compared the genomes of fungi that colonize Arabidopsis thaliana roots with genomes from other plant-associated fungi. Learn more here on the JGI website.