Concerted Research Action

2008-2013 | 3 Phd – 1 post-doc | € 1.180.365

Termite as a tool to improve lignocellulose biomass valorization : study of enzymatical complex from termites and its common symbionts by proteomic, genomic and metabolomic approaches

Biorefinery is an emerging concept for the transformation of raw materials into fuels and chemicals. Lignocellulosic biomass is of strategic importance in the search of performance new products which fulfil the requirements for a sustainable development. Efficient biotransformation of lignocellulosic biomass should ensure cost-competitiveness and give access to a wide array of feedstocks.

Lignocellulosic materials is a complex of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. These compounds are closely linked and recalcitrant to the break-up into bioconvertible substrates. Scientists are searching for new enzymes that can be more efficient to do this pre-treatment. Termites, notorious for their voracious appetite for wood may provide key to greener fuels and chemicals from cellulosic materials. Termites employ an array of specialized microorganisms in their hind- and midguts called symbionts to break down the cell walls of plant material and catalyze the digestion process. Based on the presence or on the absence of cellulolytic protozoans in the gut tract, they are separated into the two subgroups of lower and higher termites.

Our purpose is to study these interactions termites-symbionts to identify efficient glucanases in order to produce them at a large scale.

The methodology will be based on different approaches (genomic, metabolomic, proteomic) and the technologies combining specificity of the partners. The first step will be the termites breeder and the gut tract extraction.

Gut tract extracts from Reticulitermes santonensis will be used :

  • to produce a cDNA library of the microbial population, with a view to screening the library for glucanase activities or with known glucanase probes (BAM),
  • to isolate microorganisms on different specific media, to select those are producing glucanases (cellulase, hemicellulase) and caracterize enzyme properties. Other enzymes like ligninase and peroxydase will be also tested,
  • to study the proteome and the metabolome from the symbionts and the termites themselves (by breeding with antibiotics) (EFE, LSM).

The results of the three different approaches will be compared in order to select the more efficient enzyme system. Gene of selected enzyme(s) will be used to construct an expression vector to produce novel glucanase(s). The physiological study of resulting strains will be realised to determine best conditions of enzyme production in bioreactor (2L until 2000L).

The set-up of the industrial process of performance catalysers production led to improve valorisation of lignocellulosic materials in bioethanol from second generation, in biorefinery and in novel technologies for green chemistry.


Unité de Bio-Industries
Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech,
Passage des Déportés, 2 • B-5030 Gembloux
T. : +32(0)81 62 23 11 • F. : +32(0)81 61 42 22, J.Destain

Unité d’Entomologie fonctionnelle et évolutive
Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech,
Passage des Déportés, 2 • B-5030 Gembloux
Phone : 081622283, Fax : 081622312,

Unité de Biologie animale et microbienne
Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech
2 Passage des Déportés • 5030 Gembloux
T. : +32(0)81 62 23 54 • F. : +32(0)81 61 15 55 •
Laboratoire de Spectrométrie de Masse

Faculté des Sciences • ULg
Institut de Chimie, B6, Sart Tilman • B-4000 Liège T. : +32(0)4 366 34 15 • F. : +32(0)4 366 34 13