Anaerobic gut fungi: Advances in isolation, culture, and cellulolytic enzyme discovery for biofuel production



Anaerobic gut fungi are an early branching family of fungi that are commonly found in the digestive tract of ruminants and monogastric herbivores. It is becoming increasingly clear that they are the primary colonizers of ingested plant biomass, and that they significantly contribute to the decomposition of plant biomass into fermentable sugars. As such, anaerobic fungi harbor a rich reservoir of undiscovered cellulolytic enzymes and enzyme complexes that can potentially transform the conversion of lignocellulose into bioenergy products. Despite their unique evolutionary history and cellulolytic activity, few species have been isolated and studied in great detail. As a result, their life cycle, cellular physiology, genetics, and cellulolytic metabolism remain poorly understood compared to aerobic fungi. To help address this limitation, this review briefly summarizes the current body of knowledge pertaining to anaerobic fungal biology, and describes progress made in the isolation, cultivation, molecular characterization, and long-term preservation of these microbes. We also discuss recent cellulase- and cellulosome-discovery efforts from gut fungi, and how these interesting, non-model microbes could be further adapted for biotechnology applications. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 1471–1482. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.