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The Hadal Amphipod Hirondellea gigas Possessing a Unique Cellulase for Digesting Wooden Debris Buried in the Deepest Seafloor

posted on 15.08.2012, 00:22 by Hideki Kobayashi, Yuji Hatada, Taishi Tsubouchi, Takahiko Nagahama, Hideto Takami

The Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is the deepest point in the ocean (10,994 m). Certain deep-sea animals can withstand the extreme pressure at this great depth. The amphipod Hirondellea gigas is a resident of the Challenger Deep. Amphipods are common inhabitants at great depths and serve as scavengers. However, there is relatively little information available regarding the physiology of H. gigas or this organism's ecological interactions in the hadopelagic zone. To understand the feeding behavior of this scavenger in the deepest oligotrophic hadal zone, we analyzed the digestive enzymes in whole-body extracts. We describe the detection of amylase, cellulase, mannanase, xylanase, and α-glycosidase activities that are capable of digesting plant-derived polysaccharides. Our identification of glucose, maltose, and cellobiose in the H. gigas extracts indicated that these enzymes function under great pressure in situ. In fact, the glucose content of H. gigas averaged 0.4% (w/dry-w). The purified H. gigas cellulase (HGcel) converted cellulose to glucose and cellobiose at an exceptional molar ratio of 2∶1 and efficiently produced glucose from dried wood, a natural cellulosic biomass, at 35°C. The enzyme activity increased under a high hydrostatic pressure of 100 MPa at 2°C, conditions equivalent to those found in the Challenger Deep. An analysis of the amino acid sequence of HGcel supported its classification as a family 31 glycosyl hydrolase. However, none of the enzymes of this family had previously been shown to possess cellulase activity. These results strongly suggested that H. gigas adapted to its extreme oligotrophic hadal oceanic environment by evolving digestive enzymes capable of digesting sunken wooden debris.