Coal, Lignin, and Fungi, Oh My!

Worldwide coal deposits presently in use as an energy source were formed hundreds of millions of years ago as buried ligin from woody plants. However, the carbon burial rate sharply decreased at the end of the Permo-Carboniferous time period, leaving a relatively finite amount of buried organic carbon for our use. The reason for this decrease has been hypothesized to involve anoxic sediment conditions, but genomic research proves a complementary hypothesis involving fungi. Researchers from Clark University and the DOE Joint Genome Institute show that the development of lignin degradation mechanisms (by white rot fungi) played a role in the decline of organic carbon burial at the end of the Permo-Carboniferous time period. These mechanisms exit until today in many fungi species, and prevent our forests’ carbon from being buried and turned into coal for humans millions of years from now. -MAA


Floudas D, et al. 2012.

The Paleozoic Origin of Enzymatic Lignin Decomposition Reconstructed from 31 Fungal Genomes. Science 29, 336 (6089), 1715-1719. doi:10.1126/science.1221748.