Rapid polyether cleavage via extracellular one-electron oxidation by a brown-rot basidiomycete

Zohar Kerem, Wuli Bao, Kenneth E. Hammel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Fungi that cause brown rot of wood are essential biomass recyclers and also the principal agents of decay in wooden structures, but the extracellular mechanisms by which they degrade lignocellulose remain unknown. To test the hypothesis that brown-rot fungi use extracellular free radical oxidants as biodegradative tools, Gloeophyllum trabeum was examined for its ability to depolymerize an environmentally recalcitrant polyether, poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO), that cannot penetrate cell membranes. Analyses of degraded PEOs by gel permeation chromatography showed that the fungus cleaved PEO rapidly by an endo route. 13C NMR analyses of unlabeled and perdeuterated PEOs recovered from G. trabeum cultures showed that a major route for depolymerization was oxidative C - C bond cleavage, a reaction diagnostic for hydrogen abstraction from a PEO methylene group by a radical oxidant. Fenton reagent (Fe(II)/H2O2) oxidized PEO by the same route in vitro and therefore might account for PEO biodegradation if it is produced by the fungus, but the data do not rule out involvement of less reactive radicals. The reactivity and extrahyphal location of this PEO-degrading system suggest that its natural function is to participate in the brown rot of wood and that it may enable brown-rot fungi to degrade recalcitrant organopollutants.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)10373-10377
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - 1 Sep 1998
Externally publishedYes


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