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Insect Ecosystem Contains Biofuel Clues

Source:  Javier Ceja-Navarro and Dan Hawkes

Javier_garyIn forest ecosystems, coarse, woody debris is an important biomass pool within which numerous groups of insects have evolved. These ecologically important insects represent useful natural analogs for biomass-to-biofuel conversion.

Using a range of molecular approaches combined with microelectrode measurements of oxygen, a team of ecologists led by ESD’s Javier Ceja-Navarro (and including Gary Andersen, Ulas Karaoz, and Eoin Brodie) characterized the gut microbiome and physiology of Odontotaenius disjunctus, a wood-feeding beetle native to the eastern United States. This study found not only a compartmentalized microbiome in this beetle digestive tract, but also sharp oxygen gradients that may permit bothaerobic and anaerobic metabolism to occur within the same regions in close proximity. This work also provided evidence for the microbial fixation of nitrogen, which is essential for insect subsistence on woody biomass.

(a) Dorsal view of a dissected passalid beetle showing the gut arrangement within the abdominal cavity. (b) Dissected beetle gut showing entire gut removed and extended.

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Citation: Ceja-Navarro, J. A., N.H. Nguyen, U. Karaoz, S.R. Gross, D.J. Herman, G.L. Andersen, T.D. Bruns, J. Pett-Ridge, M. Blackwell, and E.L. Brodie (2014), Compartmentalized microbial composition, oxygen gradients and nitrogen fixation in the gut of Odontotaenius disjunctus. ISME Journal, 8, 6-18; PMID: 23985746; DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2013.134.

Funding: BER, SS SFA