Transcriptome analysis of the digestive system of a wood-feeding termite (Coptotermes formosanus) revealed a unique mechanism for effective biomass degradation Academic Article uri icon


  • Background: Wood-feeding termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, represents a highly efficient system for biomass deconstruction and utilization. However, the detailed mechanisms of lignin modification and carbohydrate degradation in this system are still largely elusive. Results: In order to reveal the inherent mechanisms for efficient biomass degradation, four different organs (salivary glands, foregut, midgut, and hindgut) within a complete digestive system of a lower termite, C. formosanus, were dissected and collected. Comparative transcriptomics was carried out to analyze these organs using high-throughput RNA sequencing. A total of 71,117 unigenes were successfully assembled, and the comparative transcriptome analyses revealed significant differential distributions of GH (glycosyl hydrolase) genes and auxiliary redox enzyme genes in different digestive organs. Among the GH genes in the salivary glands, the most abundant were GH9, GH22, and GH1 genes. The corresponding enzymes may have secreted into the foregut and midgut to initiate the hydrolysis of biomass and to achieve a lignin-carbohydrate co-deconstruction system. As the most diverse GH families, GH7 and GH5 were primarily identified from the symbiotic protists in the hindgut. These enzymes could play a synergistic role with the endogenous enzymes from the host termite for biomass degradation. Moreover, twelve out of fourteen genes coding auxiliary redox enzymes from the host termite origin were induced by the feeding of lignin-rich diets. This indicated that these genes may be involved in lignin component deconstruction with its redox network during biomass pretreatment. Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that the termite digestive system synergized the hydrolysis and redox reactions in a programmatic process, through different parts of its gut system, to achieve a maximized utilization of carbohydrates. The detailed unique mechanisms identified from the termite digestive system may provide new insights for advanced design of future biorefinery.

altmetric score

  • 1.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Geng, A., Cheng, Y., Wang, Y., Zhu, D., Le, Y., Wu, J., ... Sun, J.

citation count

  • 12

publication date

  • February 2018