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close this bookBioconversion of Organic Residues for Rural Communities (UNU, 1979)
close this folderMicro-organisms as tools for rural processing of organic residues
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentMicrobial utilization of mono- and di-saccharide residues
View the documentMicrobial conversion of starchy residues
View the documentMicrobial conversion of complex mixtures of compounds (Polysaccharides, Proteins, Lipids, etc.)
View the documentMicrobial utilization of cellulose and ligno-cellulose residues
View the documentAlgal culture as a source of biomass
View the documentMicrobial utilization of silviculture biomass
View the documentMicro-organisms and marine and freshwater biomass
View the documentInternational studies on processing organic residues
View the documentReferences

Microbial utilization of cellulose and ligno-cellulose residues

The most abundant renewable biomass on earth consists of cellulose, with between 5 and 15 tons per person being synthesized annually by photosynthesis. Much of the cellulose in nature is bound physico-chemically with lignin.

Because lignin is highly resistant, it protects cellulose against attack by most microbes, and it must be degraded by chemical or biological means before the cellulose can be utilized. Some higher fungi such as the basidiomycetes (Planerocheate chrysosporium) can degrade lignin, and mush rooms (Lentinus, Volveriella, and Pleurotus species) convert ligno-cellulose directly into fungal protein suitable for human consumption.

Table 4 lists some cellulose-utilizing organisms together with the general products they form, and their current status of development as useful agents. Brief mention may be made of each of these groups.

TABLE 4. Products of Some Cellulose-Utilizing Organisms

Group Product formed Current status
Volvariella sp. Human food (mushrooms), animal feed Produced commercially
Lentinus edodes Human food (mushrooms), animal feed Produced commercially
Pleurotus sp. Human food (mushrooms). animal feed Produced commercially
Phanerochaete chrysosporium Delignified cellulose for use as feed, fibre, or further conversions Under research
Thermoactinomyces sp. and other thermophilic actinomyces Human food (SCP), animal feed Under research
Trichodenma viride Cellulases for converting cellulose to sugars, animal feed (SCP) Under development
Clostridium thermocellum Cellulases for converting cellulose to sugar, ethanol, acetate, lactate, and H2; animal feed (SCP) Under research
Pseudomonae fluorescent var.

cellulosae and similar bacteria

Animal feed, cellulases for converting cellulose to sugars Under research
Cellulomonas sp. plus Alcaligenes faecalis Animal feed Under research
Candida utilis Animal feed Under research
Thermophilic sporocytophaga Animal feed, ethanol, acetic acid Under research

Volvariella Species

Mushrooms of the genus Volvariella (V. volvacea, V. esculenta, and V. diplasia) are cultivated mainly on rice straw and similar cellulosic materials by individual families in Asia and Africa Commercially, mushrooms in this genus account for about 4 per cent of the world production of some 916,000 tons. They have promise of expanded use in regions of the tropics where the grain is grown Production usually involves simply inoculating pre-soaked straw in flat stacks with spores (spawn), maintaining optimal moistures, and harvesting several crops of mushrooms. The spent straw is used to inoculate new straw stacks, and is a rich animal feed (20).

Lentinus edodes

The mushroom Lentinus edodes has been cultivated for centuries in China and Japan, where it is commercially produced in a multi-million-dollar industry; it accounts for about 15 per cent of world production. (Both in Asia and more especially in western countries, Agaricus bispora is the most important mushroom species and accounts for about 75 per cent of world production [20].)

L. edodes has potential for bioconversion of lignified residues and low-quality wood into fungal protein. Such protein is easily digested by ruminants, but its use as a feed supplement has received little attention.

Pleurotus Species

Mushrooms of the genus Pleurotus (P. ostreatus, P. sajorcaju, P. florida, P. cornucopiae, etc.) are called "White-rot" fungi, and they decompose lignin and polysaccharides in wood. They have potential in the conversion of waste and low-grade wood into protein-rich food for human consumption. P. cornucopiae is grown commercially in Japan, but none of the species is grown in western countries. P. ostreatus and P. florida have temperature optima near 30 C, making them promising for processing organic residues in the tropics. All can be cultivated on mixtures of sawdust and grain, manure, and food processing wastes (20 - 22).


Wood-decaying fungi, such as Phanerochaeta chrysosporium, are widely distributed in northern countries where they are commonly called "white-rot" fungi. P. chrysosporium decomposes both the lignin and cellulose in wood; it is unique in that (i) it produces copious quantities of spores, making it easy to transfer; (ii) it is thermotolerant, growing rapidly at 35 to 40 C, but also well at 25 C; and (iii) it has simple nutritional requirements. This fungus has been fed to fish and rats as a source of protein, but it has not been studied extensively as a nutrient for other animals. It should be considered as a means of converting wood processing residues and other lignified wastes into partially de-lignified products for feed or fibre use, or for further conversions (23).

Thermoactinomycos Species

The thermophilic, cellulolytic, and starch-utilizing actinomyces, such as Thermoactinomyces sp., may provide an opportunity to produce single-cell protein for feed supplements in tropical climates. The thermoactinomyces do not utilize ligno-cellulose directly, so treatment of such complex materials would be necessary. However, they grow rapidly at 55 to 65°C under aerobic conditions on a variety of cellulosic and starchy materials plus other simple nutrients. According to preliminary results of Humphrey and associates (24), cell yields of 0.45 9 cell/g cellulose utilized can be obtained in 20 to 24 hours; apparently four cell-bound enzymes are involved in the degradation process.

Trichodorma viride

Although a number of fungi are cellulolytic, only a few produce cell-free cellulose in sufficient quantity to be useful for large-scale development. Trichoderma viride and a number of its mutants do produce a stable cellulose that is capable of degrading cellulose (Figure 3). The fungus grows rapidly on simple media in the pH range of 5.0 to 2.5, thus reducing to a minimum contamination from other microbes. The broth containing the enzyme is then mixed with pure cellulose, or with treated lignocellulose to remove the lignin, and a glucose syrup results.

Figure. 3. Enzymatic Conversion of Waste Cellulose to Glucose Sugar

The Japanese are producing cellulose commercially from J. viride on a limited scale using the Koji process, and considerable research is being done in several laboratories to obtain mutants that yield more enzyme. The use of cellulose from T. viride holds great promise as a tool for processing cellulose residues (25 - 27).

Clostridium thermocellum

The only known thermophilic, anaerobic bacterium that degrades cellulose is Clostridium thermocellum. The organism has simple nutritional requirements and grows at higher temperatures (50 C) than do most bacteria, which has the advantage in a fermentation process of being less prone to contamination by other organisms. In pure culture, the chief products from cellulose (or treated ligno-cellulose) are cell mass (protein), acetate, ethanol, lactate, H2, and CO2. In a mixed culture, C. thermocellum and Methanobacterium thermosutotrophicum, yield from cellulose are cell mass, methane, and acetate (27, 28). This is not a process that could be easily adapted to rural areas unless proper equipment were available but it could be used to produce either ethanol or biogas (methane) from cellulosic wastes.

Pseudomonas flvorescens var. cellulosee, Cellumonas Species, Cellvibrio Species, and Other Cellulose-Degrading Organisms

Species in the genera Pseudomonas, Cellulomonas, and Celivibrio utilize cellulose, but they apparently are unable to degrade ligno-cellulose. Co-fermentative studies on cellulose have been conducted using P. fluorescens and Candida utilis, Cellulomonas species, and Alcaligenes faecalis, and with Cellulomonas flavigena and Xanthomonas campestris Supposedly, cofermentation of cellulose with a non-cellulolytic organism increases the rate of utilization of soluble sugars produced in the process and thereby hastens the reaction (29). In fact, Casas-Campillo and colleagues (personal communication, 1978) have found that C. flavigena and X. campestris together are much more active against cellulose than are T. viride or combinations of other organisms.

Thermophilic Sporocytophaga

The Sporocytophaga (Sporocytophaga myxococcoides, etc.) digest cellulose and other components of cell walls, but not ligno-cellulose. A thermophilic strain that grows at 55 to 65 C has been found. This organism might be useful for the production of cell mass, ethanol, acetate, and lactate from cellulose.