Microbial production of phenolic-rich lignin residues in coarse woody debris: a laboratory degradation of red spruce wood by two common brown rot fungi
Publication Name: Organic Geochemistry
The organic residues produced in the brown-rot (BR) of wood by many basidiomycetes fungi are ubiquitous on most coniferous forest floors. This degraded wood tissue is characterized by low levels of polysaccharides and a high proportion of demethylated lignin with minor glycerol side chain oxidation. Because of the selective enrichment in an aromatic dihydroxy-rich lignin residue, the chemical and biological reactivity of BR degraded wood will be distinctly different from white rot, the other primary class of fungal wood decay, which typically produces oxidized, lignin-depleted residues. The biochemical mechanism by which BR fungi perform this distinctive degradative chemistry is only starting to become known, and molecular studies which examine the chemical changes imparted to lignin over the long-term decay process are lacking. Using 13C-labeled tetramethylammonium hydroxide thermochemolysis (13C-TMAH) and solid state 13C NMR, we investigated the relationship between lignin oxidation/demethylation and polysaccharide metabolism in a 32-week time series study of spruce sapwood inoculated with either of two BR fungi (Postia placenta and Gloeophyllum trabeum). Our findings demonstrate a close relationship between lignin demethylation and polysaccharide loss and suggest demethylation may play a mechanistic role in polysaccharide loss, possibly by assisting in Fenton reactions where catechol/quinone oxidation and cycling aids in iron reduction. The residue remaining after 16 weeks of decay is devoid of polysaccharides, in contrast to the 68% polysaccharide carbon present in the initial spruce, and exhibits an increased aromatic dihydroxy content (resulting from demethylation of the 3-methoxyl carbon) of up to 22% of the lignin, as determined by 13C-TMAH thermochemolysis. In a typical soil or porewater environment these chemical changes would make BR residues highly reactive toward redox sensitive polyvalent metals (e.g. ferric iron) and likely to adsorb to metal hydroxide surfaces.