Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jon Asks: 1

I've read that fungi are the only organisms that can degrade the longer-chain fibers in wood, such as lignin, and that without saprobic fungi the world would be blanketed in dead, undecayed trees. I see on Wikipedia that it is not literally true that no bacteria can degrade lignins, however, by Wiki's account, it does seem that no known bacteria are very good at it. ( So why would that be the evolutionary case? Bacteria have evolved to break down pretty much everything else on the planet (roughly speaking), and wood has been around for something like 350+ million years. Why would they be such second-rate degraders when it comes to lignin?

This is an interesting question, but not one I can give a very satisfying answer to. Explanations of why something didn't evolve are always fairly speculative. Why no six legged tigers? Why no live-birthing birds? Why no Ents?

So why no lignin devouring bacteria? If they can do it poorly, why not well? Maybe it isn't worth their while to invest in that capacity, as they are always outcompeted by the fungi who can already do it? Maybe they can rely on the fungi to make the enzymes, and then they can just mooch. Perhaps the process of making the necessary enzymes requires separate cellular compartments, which bacteria lack. Maybe the necessary mutations just never occurred, and so couldn't be selected for. Certainly I don't know.

1 comment:

jte said...

Admissions of ignorance, while honorable, are highly unsatisfying. Harumph.