Lessons From Insect Fungiculture: From Microbial Ecology to Plastics Degradation

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Barcoto, Mariana O. [UNESP]
Rodrigues, Andre [UNESP]

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Anthropogenic activities have extensively transformed the biosphere by extracting and disposing of resources, crossing boundaries of planetary threat while causing a global crisis of waste overload. Despite fundamental differences regarding structure and recalcitrance, lignocellulose and plastic polymers share physical-chemical properties to some extent, that include carbon skeletons with similar chemical bonds, hydrophobic properties, amorphous and crystalline regions. Microbial strategies for metabolizing recalcitrant polymers have been selected and optimized through evolution, thus understanding natural processes for lignocellulose modification could aid the challenge of dealing with the recalcitrant human-made polymers spread worldwide. We propose to look for inspiration in the charismatic fungal-growing insects to understand multipartite degradation of plant polymers. Independently evolved in diverse insect lineages, fungiculture embraces passive or active fungal cultivation for food, protection, and structural purposes. We consider there is much to learn from these symbioses, in special from the community-level degradation of recalcitrant biomass and defensive metabolites. Microbial plant-degrading systems at the core of insect fungicultures could be promising candidates for degrading synthetic plastics. Here, we first compare the degradation of lignocellulose and plastic polymers, with emphasis in the overlapping microbial players and enzymatic activities between these processes. Second, we review the literature on diverse insect fungiculture systems, focusing on features that, while supporting insects’ ecology and evolution, could also be applied in biotechnological processes. Third, taking lessons from these microbial communities, we suggest multidisciplinary strategies to identify microbial degraders, degrading enzymes and pathways, as well as microbial interactions and interdependencies. Spanning from multiomics to spectroscopy, microscopy, stable isotopes probing, enrichment microcosmos, and synthetic communities, these strategies would allow for a systemic understanding of the fungiculture ecology, driving to application possibilities. Detailing how the metabolic landscape is entangled to achieve ecological success could inspire sustainable efforts for mitigating the current environmental crisis.



bioremediation, lignocellulose, microbiota, plant, pollutants, polymers, symbiosis, xenobiotics

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Frontiers in Microbiology, v. 13.