Effect of Brown-Rot Fungi on Cellulose

  • T. L. Highley
  • T. K. Kirk
  • R. Ibach


Brown-rot fungi cause the most destructive form of wood decay. These fungi secrete agents that bring about a rapid depolymerization of cellulose (to the “limit” degree of polymerization [DP]) before significant loss of wood substance occurs; in both cases attack initially is in the amorphous regions. Acid hydrolysis has a similar effect on cellulose as do several oxidants. How brown-rot fungi accomplish this feat is a perplexing biochemical question. Enzyme preparations from many brown-rot fungi can significantly degrade only cellulose that has been modified, such as carboxymethylcellulose (Highley, 1973, 1977a). Most likely the system producing the initial depolymerization of cellulose is nonenzymatic because even the smallest enzymes are far too large to penetrate the intersticies of the amorphous regions. Secretion of acids strong enough to hydrolyze the cellulose is unlikely. Cowling and Brown (1969) suggested that an oxidative system employing Fenton’s reagent (Fe+2+H2O2), which generates hydroxyl radical might be used by brown-rot fungi. Later Koenigs demonstrated that cellulose in wood is depolymerized by Fenton’s reagent. Support for an oxidative system was provided by Highley (1977b) who obtained evidence that brown-rotted cellulose contains carbonyl and carboxyl groups.


Carboxyl Content Produce Weight Loss Gloeophyllum Trabeum Residual Cellulose Potassium Superoxide 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. L. Highley
    • 1
  • T. K. Kirk
    • 1
  • R. Ibach
    • 1
  1. 1.Forest Service, Forest Products LaboratoryUSDAMadisonUSA

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