Mohn & Eltis Labs

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Characterizing microorganisms and enzymes involved in lignin biodegradation in thermal ecosystems can identify thermostable biocatalysts. We integrated stable isotope probing (SIP), genome-resolved metagenomics, and enzyme characterization to investigate the degradation of high-molecular weight, 13C-ring-labeled synthetic lignin by microbial communities from moderately thermophilic hot spring sediment (52 °C) and a woody “hog fuel” pile (53 and 62 °C zones). 13C-Lignin degradation was monitored using IR-GCMS of 13CO2, and isotopic enrichment of DNA was measured with UHLPC-MS/MS. Assembly of 42 metagenomic libraries (72 Gb) yielded 344 contig bins, from which 125 draft genomes were produced. Fourteen genomes were significantly enriched with 13C from lignin, including genomes of Actinomycetes (ThermoleophilaceaeSolirubrobacteraceaeRubrobacter sp.), Firmicutes (Kyrpidia sp., Alicyclobacillus sp.) and Gammaproteobacteria(Steroidobacteraceae). We employed multiple approaches to screen genomes for genes encoding putative ligninases and pathways for aromatic compound degradation. Our analysis identified several novel laccase-like multi-copper oxidase (LMCO) genes in 13C-enriched genomes. One of these LMCOs was heterologously expressed and shown to oxidize lignin model compounds and minimally transformed lignin. This study elucidated bacterial lignin depolymerization and mineralization in thermal ecosystems, establishing new possibilities for the efficient valorization of lignin at elevated temperature.

Review by David J. Levy-Booth: