NCBI ROFL: The wonders of koala poop revealed!

By ncbi rofl | March 21, 2013 12:00 pm

A lot of great things can come out of finding new ways to degrade stuff. Like reducing the number of plastic bags in our landfills, or producing fuels from plant matter. Nature has evolved many enzymes that do these sorts of things very efficiently–the trick is figuring out how to find the organisms that make them. These scientists decided to look in koala poop! Although it might seem like a smelly choice, it makes sense that there might be organisms in koala poop that eat the “leftover” fiber from all that eucalyptus. Om nom nom nom!

Fungi from koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) faeces exhibit a broad range of enzyme activities against recalcitrant substrates.

“AIMS: Identification of fungi isolated from koala faeces and screening for their enzyme activities of biotechnological interest.

METHODS AND RESULTS: Thirty-seven fungal strains were isolated from koala faeces and identified by the amplification and direct sequencing of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the ribosomal DNA. The fungi were screened for selected enzyme activities using agar plates containing a single substrate for each target class of enzyme. For xylanase, endoglucanase, ligninase (ligninolytic phenoloxidase) and protease over two-thirds of the isolates produced a clearing halo at 25 degrees C, indicating the secretion of active enzyme by the fungus, and one-third produced a halo indicating amylase, mannanase and tannase activity. Some isolates were also able to degrade crystalline cellulose and others displayed lipase activity. Many of the fungal isolates also produced active enzymes at 15 degrees C and some at 39 degrees C.

CONCLUSIONS: Koala faeces, consisting of highly lignified fibre, undigested cellulose and phenolics, are a novel source of fungi with high and diverse enzyme activities capable of breaking down recalcitrant substrates.

SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY:To our knowledge, this is the first time fungi from koala faeces have been identified using ITS sequencing and screened for their enzyme activities.”

Photo: flickr/luke.fabish

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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl

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