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Microbial and enzymatic control of pitch in the pulp and paper industry

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Pitch control is an important aspect in pulp and paper manufacture, and the first example where microbial biotechnology provided successful solutions in this industrial sector. Triglycerides cause deposits in softwood mechanical pulping, and both microbial and enzymatic products have been commercialized to be applied on wood and pulp, respectively. The former are based on colorless strains of sapstain fungi. The latter are improved lipases, including thermostable variants from directed evolution. These enzymes are among the additives of choice in pulping of high-resin-content softwoods. However, lipases are not useful when pitch originates from other lipids, such as steroids and terpenes, and the sapstain inocula are also only partially effective. In the search for stronger biocatalysts to degrade recalcitrant lipids, the potential of white-rot fungi and their enzymes has been demonstrated. When inocula of these fungi are used, wood treatment must be controlled to avoid cellulose degradation. However, the efficiency and selectivity of the laccase-mediator system permits its integration as an additional bleaching stage. A double benefit can be obtained from these treatments since pitch is controlled at the same time that residual lignin is removed facilitating the implementation of totally chlorine free pulp bleaching.

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This work was supported by the Spanish projects AGL2008-00709, BIO2005-03569 and BIO2008-01533, and the BIORENEW project of the European Union (contract NMP2-CT-2006-026456).

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Correspondence to Ana Gutiérrez.

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Gutiérrez, A., del Río, J.C. & Martínez, A.T. Microbial and enzymatic control of pitch in the pulp and paper industry. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 82, 1005–1018 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-009-1905-z

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  • Pitch deposits
  • Paper pulps
  • Wood fungi
  • Fungal enzymes
  • Laccase-mediator system