Hemicellulolytic bacteria in the anterior intestine of the earthworm Eisenia fetida (Sav.)

Ordoñez-Arévalo, Berenice; Huerta-Lwanga, Esperanza; Ángeles Calixto-Romo, María de los; Dunn, Michael Frederick; Guillén-Navarro, Karina


Tropical agriculture produces large amounts of lignocellulosic residues that can potentially be used as a natural source of value-added products. The complexity of lignocellulose makes industrial-scale processing difficult. New processing techniques must be developed to improve the yield and avoid this valuable resource going to waste. Hemicelluloses comprise a variety of polysaccharides with different backbone compositions and decorations (such as methylations and acetylations), and form part of an intricate framework that confers structural stability to the plant cell wall. Organisms that are able to degrade these biopolymers include earthworms (Eisenia fetida), which can rapidly decompose a wide variety of lignocellulosic substrates. This ability probably derives from enzymes and symbiotic microorganisms in the earthworm gut. In this work, two substrates with similar C/N ratios but different hemicellulose content were selected. Palm fibre and coffee husk have relatively high (28%) and low (5%) hemicellulose contents, respectively. A vermicomposting mixture was prepared for the earthworms to feed on by mixing a hemicellulose substrate with organic market waste. Xylanase activity was determined in earthworm gut and used as a selection criterion for the isolation of hemicellulose-degrading bacteria. Xylanase activity was similar for both substrates, even though their physicochemical properties principally pH and electrical conductivity, as shown by the MANOVA analysis) were different for the total duration of the experiment (120 days). Xylanolytic strains isolated from earthworm gut were identified by sequence analysis of the 16S rRNA gene. Our results indicate that the four Actinobacteria, two Proteobacteria, and one Firmicutes isolated are active participants of the xylanolytic degradation by microbiota in the intestine of E. fetida. Most bacteria were more active at pH 7 and 28 °C, and those with higher activities are reported as being facultatively anaerobic, coinciding with the microenvironment reported for the earthworm gut. Each strain had a different degradative capacity.