Marine Pests Offering New Insights Into Cellulose Degradation

A small marine pest, the gribble, known for eating the hulls’ of of ships is offering a new perspective in cellulose degradation. Published in PNAS, it was found that it does not degrade cellulose and lignin with the assistance of microbes (as in termites and cows) but makes its own enzymes. By analyzing genetic expression in hepatopancreas of the gribble, where the enzymes are secreted from, the genes for the many enzymes were found to be glucosyl hydrolases. The discovery of these enzymes and their corresponding genes, alone is cause for excitement; a larger selection of enzymes allows for more experimentation and could be the key to more efficient degradation. The organism is also worth studying, being the only cellulose degrading prokaryote that does not require bacterial assistance, its biological digestive processes may hold important cues to the next step in cellulosic degradation.


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