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Hemocyanin facilitates lignocellulose digestion by wood-boring marine crustaceans

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  • Graham P Malyon
  • Giovanni Paro da Cunha
  • Jefferson Goncalves Filgueiras
  • Adam Dowle
  • Lourdes Cruz Garcia
  • Samuel J. Page
  • Ray Dupree
  • Luisa Elias
  • Shaza E. Mohamad
  • Clare G. Steele-King
  • Eduardo Ribeiro de Azevedo
  • Igor Polikarpov
  • Paul Dupree
  • Simon M. Cragg


Publication details

JournalNature Communications
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Nov 2018
DatePublished (current) - 3 Dec 2018
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Original languageEnglish


Woody (lignocellulosic) plant biomass is an abundant renewable feedstock, rich in polysaccharides that are bound into an insoluble fiber composite with lignin. Marine crustacean woodborers of the genus Limnoria are among the few animals that can survive on a diet of this recalcitrant material without relying on gut resident microbiota. Analysis of fecal pellets revealed that Limnoria targets hexose-containing polysaccharides (mainly cellulose, and also glucomannans), corresponding with the abundance of cellulases in their digestive system, but xylans and lignin are largely unconsumed. We show that the limnoriid respiratory protein, hemocyanin, is abundant in the hindgut where wood is digested, that incubation of wood with hemocyanin markedly enhances its digestibility by cellulases, and that it modifies lignin. We propose that this activity of hemocyanins is instrumental to the ability of Limnoria to feed on wood in the absence of gut symbionts. These findings may hold potential for innovations in lignocellulose biorefining.

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2018.

    Research areas

  • Animals, Cellulose/metabolism, Diet, Digestion/physiology, Feces/chemistry, Gastrointestinal Tract/metabolism, Hemocyanins/metabolism, Isopoda/metabolism, Lignin/metabolism, Microscopy, Electron, Scanning, Microscopy, Electron, Transmission, Wood/parasitology, Xylans/metabolism

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