Impact of Oxygen on Metabolic Fluxes and in Situ Rates of Reductive Acetogenesis in the Hindgut of the Wood-Feeding Termite Reticulitermes Flavipes

Environ Microbiol. 2000 Aug;2(4):436-49. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-2920.2000.00127.x.


The symbiotic digestion of lignocellulose in the hindgut of the wood-feeding termite Reticulitermes flavipes is characterized by two major metabolic pathways: (i) the oxidation of polysaccharides to acetate by anaerobic hydrogen-producing protozoa; and (ii) the reduction of CO2 by hydrogenotrophic acetogenic bacteria. Both reactions together would render the hindgut largely homoacetogenic. However, the results of this study show that the situation is more complex. By microinjection of radiolabelled metabolites into intact agarose-embedded hindguts, we showed that the in situ rates of reductive acetogenesis (3.3 nmol termite(-1) h(-1)) represent only 10% of the total carbon flux in the living termite, whereas 30% of the carbon flux proceeds via lactate. The rapid turnover of the lactate pool (7.2 nmol termite(-1) h(-1)) consolidates the previously reported presence of lactic acid bacteria in the R. flavipes hindgut and the low lactate concentrations in the hindgut fluid. However, the immediate precursor of lactate remains unknown; the low turnover rates of injected glucose (< 0.5 nmol termite(-1) h(-1)) indicate that free glucose is not an important intermediate under in situ conditions. The influence of the incubation atmosphere on the turnover rate and the product pattern of glucose and lactate confirmed that the influx of oxygen via the gut epithelium and its reduction in the hindgut periphery have a significant impact on carbon and electron flow within the hindgut microbial community. The in situ rates of reductive acetogenesis were not significantly affected by the presence of oxygen or exogenous H2, which is in agreement with a localization of homoacetogens in the anoxic gut lumen rather than in the oxic periphery. This adds strong support to the hypothesis that the co-existence of methanogens and homoacetogens in this termite is based on the spatial arrangement of the different populations of the gut microbiota. A refined model of metabolic fluxes in the hindgut of R. flavipes is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Cellulose / metabolism
  • Digestive System / metabolism*
  • Digestive System / microbiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Isoptera / metabolism*
  • Lactates / metabolism
  • Lignin / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen / pharmacology
  • Wood*


  • Acetates
  • Lactates
  • lignocellulose
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Cellulose
  • Lignin
  • Glucose
  • Oxygen