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Forest Products Laboratory
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726-2398
Phone: (608) 231-9200
Fax: (608) 231-9592
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How Does Wood Decay Start?

The dots are microscopic beads and the lines are fungal hyphae. The beads turn from red to green when exposed to oxidation. Notice that the bead next to the fungus is more green than the others. USDA Forest Service.
The dots are microscopic beads and the lines are fungal hyphae. The beads turn from red to green when exposed to oxidation. Notice that the bead next to the fungus is more green than the others. USDA Forest Service.
Snapshot: How do fungi rot wood? Using new tools, fluorescent dye attached to tiny beads, and laser confocal microscopy, Forest Service scientists were able to follow oxidation on a microscopic level. The information is helping them zero-in on the chemicals fungi use to start decay, and they are applying the knowledge to improve wood preservation.
Summary:

Oxidative cleavage of lignin, a wood biopolymer, is the first step in rotting wood. These fungi secrete several oxidative enzymes, but the relative importance of these agents in decay remains unclear. One new approach to this problem is to infer properties of these oxidants from how far they are from the fungus. Forest Service scientists grew the fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium on wood sections with oxidant-sensing beads, which change from red to green with oxidation. The beads, having fixed locations relative to the fungal hyphae, enabled them to map the amount of oxidant as it spread out from the fungus. Data analysis using a mathematical reaction-diffusion model indicated that the dominant oxidant during early white rot had a half-life under 0.1 second. The best available hypothesis is that this oxidant is the cation radical of the secreted P. chrysosporium metabolite veratryl alcohol.
Princpal Investigator(s):
 Hunt, Christopher G.
 Houtman, Carl J.
 Hammel, Kenneth E.


Research Location:
  • Madison, Wisconsin


External Partners:
  • University of Wisconsin

Fiscal Year: 2015
Highlight ID: 618
 
Related Research Emphasis Areas: