Understanding lignin biodegradation for the improved utilization of plant biomass in modern biorefineries
Camarero S, Martínez MJ, Martínez AT
Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref., 8: 615-625
Wood-rotting fungi are the sole organisms in nature able to degrade the lignin polymer making the polysaccharide components of lignocellulose fully accessible. This process has been investigated for decades as a model for biotechnological application in the pulp and paper industry, animal feeding, and ethanol production. In the current lignocellulose biorefinery concept, ligninolytic fungi and the oxidoreductases (laccases and peroxidases) secreted by these fungi constitute powerful biotechnological tools for the complete utilization of plant biomass. The evolution of molecular biology, which brings into play specifically designed biological systems and on-demand enzymes, together with the technological advances in processing of plant biomass, smoothes the way for a sustainable conversion of renewable feedstocks to new added-value products, with lower energy costs and less environmental impact. The present study reviews some of the main achievements attained by our group in the field of lignin biodegradation that have contributed to: (i) better understanding of the mechanisms by which fungi delignify the lignocellulosic materials; and (ii) assessing the applicability of these ligninolytic systems to increase the efficiency of some industrial processes and to develop new means for sustainable and environmentally sound production of chemicals, materials, and fuels.