Woody (lignocellulosic) plant biomass is an abundant renewable feedstock, rich in polysaccharides that are bound into an insoluble fiber composite with lignin. Marine crustacean woodborers of the genus Limnoria are among the few animals that can survive on a diet of this recalcitrant material without relying on gut resident microbiota. Analysis of fecal pellets revealed that Limnoria targets hexose-containing polysaccharides (mainly cellulose, and also glucomannans), corresponding with the abundance of cellulases in their digestive system, but xylans and lignin are largely unconsumed. We show that the limnoriid respiratory protein, hemocyanin, is abundant in the hindgut where wood is digested, that incubation of wood with hemocyanin markedly enhances its digestibility by cellulases, and that it modifies lignin. We propose that this activity of hemocyanins is instrumental to the ability of Limnoria to feed on wood in the absence of gut symbionts. These findings may hold potential for innovations in lignocellulose biorefining.
April 28, 2019