Effects of fungal degradation on the CuO oxidation products of lignin: A controlled laboratory study

John I. Hedges, Robert A. Blanchette, Karen Weliky, Allan H. Devol

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397 Scopus citations


Duplicate samples of birch wood were degraded for 0, 4, 8 and 12 weeks by the white-rot fungus, Phlebia tremellosus, and for 12 weeks by 6 other white-rot and brown-rot fungi. P. tremellosus caused progressive weight losses and increased the H/C and O/C of the remnant wood by preferentially degrading the lignin component of the middle lamellae. This fungus increased the absolute (weight loss-corrected) yield of the vanillic acid CuO reaction product above its initial level and exponentially decreased the absolute yields of all other lignin-derived phenols. Total yields of syringyl phenols were decreased 1.5 times as fast as total vanillyl phenol yields. Within both phenol families, aldehyde precursors were degraded faster than precursors of the corresponding ketones, which were obtained in constant proportion to the total phenol yield. Although two other white-rot fungi caused similar lignin compositional trends, a fourth white-rot species, Coriolus versicolor, simultaneously eroded all cell wall components and did not concentrate polysaccharides in the remnant wood. Wood degraded by the three brown-rot fungi exhibited porous cell walls with greatly reduced integrity. The brown-rot fungi also preferentially attacked syringyl structural units, but degraded all phenol precursors at a much slower rate than the white-rotters and did not produce excess vanillic acid. Degradation by P. tremellosus linearly increased the vanillic acid/vanillin ratio, (Ad/Al)v, of the remnant birch wood throughout the 12 week degradation study and exponentially decreased the absolute yields of total vanillyl phenols, total syringyl phenols and the syringyl/vanillyl phenol ratio, S/V. At the highest (Ad/Al)v of 0.50 (12 week samples), total yields of syringyl and vanillyl phenols were decreased by 65% and 80%, respectively, with a resulting reduction of 40% in the original S/V. Many of the diagenetically related compositional trends that have been previously reported for lignins in natural environments can be explained by white-rot fungal degradation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2717-2726
Number of pages10
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1988


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