Termites as Functional Gene Resources
Toru Matsui, Gaku Tokuda and Naoya Shinzato
Affiliation: Center of Molecular Biosciences, University of the Ryukyus, 1 Sembaru, Nishihara-cho, Okinawa 903-0213, Japan.
Keywords: Termites, symbionts, gene source, biomass
Termites (Dictyoptera, Isoptera) comprise a complex assemblage of diverse species, roughly divided into socalled lower and higher termites. Lower termites harbor a dense and diverse population of prokaryotes and flagellated protists (single-cell eukaryotes) in their gut. Higher termites comprise only one apical family (Termitidae) but more than three-quarters of all termite species. While they also harbor a dense and diverse array of prokaryotes, higher termites typically lack flagellated protists. Although termites are regarded as harmful because of the ability to decompose cellulosic materials such as houses made of wood. Classical enrichment culture technique and recent metagenomic approach showed that the termites and/or their symbionts are potentially good resource of functional genes for industrial applications. Recent papers and patents showed termites and its symbionts have not only cellulolytic or lignin decomposition activity but also aromatic hydrocarbons degradation. These functions would be useful for biomass utilization, environmental remediation, and fine-chemicals production. In this review, along with the current patents of termite derived biochemical functions, future prospects for practical application based on the recent progress in metagenomic research are discussed.
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