Lignocellulosic biomass is a sustainable resource with abundant reserves. Compared to petroleum ‐ based products, the biomass ‐ derived polymers and chemicals give better environmental profiles. A lot of research interest is focused on understanding the lignocellulose structures.
Lignin, among the three major wood components, represents most difficulty for microbial degradation because of its complex structure and because cross ‐ linking to hemicellulose makes wood such a compact structure. Nevertheless, wood is naturally degraded by wood ‐ degrading micro ‐ organisms and modified and partly degraded residual of lignin goes into soil. Therefore soil serves as a good environment in which to search for special lignin ‐ degraders. In this thesis, different types of lignin have been used as sole carbon sources to screen for lignin ‐ degrading soil micro ‐ organisms. Eleven aerobic and three anaerobic microbe strains have been isolated and identified as able to grow on lignin. The lignin degradation patterns of selected strains have been studied and these partly include an endwise cleavage of β‐ O ‐ 4 bonds in lignin and is more complex than simple hydrolytic degradation.
As lignin exists in wood covalently bonded to hemicellulose, one isolated microbe strain, Phoma herbarum, has also been studied with regards to its ability to degrade covalent lignin polysaccharide networks (LCC). The results show that its culture filtrate can attack lignin ‐ polysaccharide networks in a manner different from that of the commercial enzyme product, Gammanase, possibly by selective cleavage of phenyl glucoside bonds. The effects on LCC of Phoma herbarum also enhance polymer extractability. Hot ‐ water extraction of a culture filtrate of Phoma herbarum ‐ treated fiberized spruce wood material gave an amount of extracted galactoglucomannan more than that given by the Gammanase ‐ treated material and non ‐ enzyme ‐ treated material.
Over millions of years of natural evolution, micro ‐ organisms on the one hand develop so that they can degrade all wood components to get energy for growth, while plants on the other hand also continuously develop to defend from microbial attack. Compared with lignin and cellulose, hemicelluloses as major components of plant cell walls, are much more easily degraded, but hemicelluloses differ from cellulose in that they are acetylated to different extents. The biological functions of acetylation are not completely understood, but it is suggested is that one function is to decrease the microbial degradability of cell walls. By cultivation of soil micro ‐ organisms using mannans acetylated to deffernent degrees as sole carbon source on agar plates, we were able to see significant trends where the resistance towards microbial degradation of glucomannan and galactomannan increased with increasing degree of acetylation. Possible mechanisms and the technological significance of this are discussed. Tailoring the degree of acetylation of polysaccharide materials might slow down the biodegradation, making it possible to design a material with a degradation rate suited to its application.