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The digestive system of selected phytophagous insects has been examined as a potential prospecting resource for identification of novel cellulolytic enzymes with potential industrial applications. In contrast to other model species, however, limited detailed information is available that characterizes cellulolytic activity and systems in basal hexapod groups. As part of a screening effort to identify insects with highly active cellulolytic systems, we have for the first time, identified species of Zygentoma that displayed the highest relative cellulase activity levels when compared to all other tested insect groups under the experimental conditions, including model species for cellulolytic systems such as termite and cockroach species in Rhinotermitidae (formerly Isoptera) and Cryptocercidae (formerly Blattodea). The goal of the present study was to provide a morphohistological characterization of cellulose digestion and to identify highly active cellulase enzymes present in digestive fluids of Zygentoma species. Morphohistological characterization supported no relevant differences in the digestive system of firebrat (Thermobia domestica) and the gray silverfish (Ctenolepisma longicaudata). Quantitative and qualitative cellulase assays identified the foregut as the region with the highest levels of cellulase activity in both T. domestica and C. longicaudata. However, T. domesticawas found to have higher endoglucanase, xylanase and pectinase activities compared to C. longicaudata. Using nano liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (nanoLC/MS/MS) and a custom gut transcriptome we identified cellulolytic enzymes from digestive fluids of T. domestica. Among the identified enzymes we report putative endoglucanases matching to insect or arthropod enzymes and glucan endo-1,6-β-glucosidases matching bacterial enzymes. These findings support combined activities of endogenous and symbiont-derived plant cell wall degrading enzymes in lignocellulose digestion in Zygentoma and advance our understanding of cellulose digestion in a primitive insect group.


This article was published openly thanks to the University of Tennessee Open Publishing Support Fund.

Licensed under a CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication (CC0 1.0).

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