Wallaby Metagenomics Advances Capabilities for Deconstruction of Plant Biomass for Biofuels

Unique clades of the Lachnospiraceae, Bacteroidales, and Gammaproteobacteria are predominant in the Tammar foregut microbiome.

The Science

The collection of microbes (the microbiome) used to digest plant biomass in the foregut of the Australian marsupial, the Tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), expresses enzymes that digest polysaccharides and noncellulosic polysaccharides. Metagenomic and bioinformatic approaches were used to characterize plant biomass conversion within the foregut microbiome of the Tammar wallaby. An unusual number of novel glycoside hydrolases, a poorly understood category of enzymes that digest complex sugars, were also found. These data demonstrate that Australian plant eating mammals harbor unique bacterial lineages capable of plant biomass conversion and that their repertoire of enzymes is distinct from those found in the microbiomes of higher termites and the bovine rumen. Thus, Australia’s native herbivores are hosts for unique bacterial types that can play a part in the deconstruction of noncellulosic poly- and oligosaccharides in biomass for conversion to biofuels. The research was carried out be a team of researchers led by P. B. Pope of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Livestock Industries in Australia in collaboration with DOE’s Joint Genome Institute.

BER Program Manager

Ramana Madupu

U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Biological Systems Science Division
[email protected]


Pope, P. B., S. E. Denman, M. Jones, S. G. Tringe, K. Barry, S. A. Malfatti, A. C. McHardy, J.-F. Cheng, P. Hugenholtz, C. S. McSweeney, and M. Morrison. 2010. “Adaptation to Herbivory by the Tammar Wallaby Includes Bacterial and Glycoside Hydrolase Profiles Different from Other Herbivores,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 107(33), 14793–98. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1005297107.