Chapter

Decomposition of Biomass

From the crib to the funeral pyre, man relies on plant cell walls as the basis for his shelter, clothing, fuel and fodder for his animals, boats, baskets, his musical instruments and for the paper on which he writes poetry or scribbles his philosophy.

The material commonly referred to as biomass is mainly the plant cell wall that forms the bulk of the organic matter produced from photosynthetic fixation of carbon dioxide by green plants. Biomass is comprised of about 35% cellulose, 25% hemicelluloses and 35% lignin, approximating to 100 gigatonnes of lignocellulose-rich plant cell wall material being produced annually. Fungi, through their ability to penetrate inside the dead tissue via grooves and pits in the cell wall, are responsible for returning to soil a large quantity of nutrients for plant growth that would be unavailable otherwise. The fungi are thus effective scavengers playing a significant role in recycling nutrients and in bio-geochemical processes in the biosphere. Their co-evolution with plants, animals and other biota is only beginning to be appreciated.

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