Microbial degradation of furanic compounds: biochemistry, genetics, and impact.

Research paper by Nick N Wierckx, Frank F Koopman, Harald J HJ Ruijssenaars, Johannes H JH de Winde

Indexed on: 28 Oct '11Published on: 28 Oct '11Published in: Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


Microbial metabolism of furanic compounds, especially furfural and 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), is rapidly gaining interest in the scientific community. This interest can largely be attributed to the occurrence of toxic furanic aldehydes in lignocellulosic hydrolysates. However, these compounds are also widespread in nature and in human processed foods, and are produced in industry. Although several microorganisms are known to degrade furanic compounds, the variety of species is limited mostly to Gram-negative aerobic bacteria, with a few notable exceptions. Furanic aldehydes are highly toxic to microorganisms, which have evolved a wide variety of defense mechanisms, such as the oxidation and/or reduction to the furanic alcohol and acid forms. These oxidation/reduction reactions constitute the initial steps of the biological pathways for furfural and HMF degradation. Furfural degradation proceeds via 2-furoic acid, which is metabolized to the primary intermediate 2-oxoglutarate. HMF is converted, via 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid, into 2-furoic acid. The enzymes in these HMF/furfural degradation pathways are encoded by eight hmf genes, organized in two distinct clusters in Cupriavidus basilensis HMF14. The organization of the five genes of the furfural degradation cluster is highly conserved among microorganisms capable of degrading furfural, while the three genes constituting the initial HMF degradation route are organized in a highly diverse manner. The genetic and biochemical characterization of the microbial metabolism of furanic compounds holds great promises for industrial applications such as the biodetoxifcation of lignocellulosic hydrolysates and the production of value-added compounds such as 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid.