Cellulose degradation in anaerobic environments

Annu Rev Microbiol. 1995;49:399-426. doi: 10.1146/annurev.mi.49.100195.002151.


In anaerobic environments rich in decaying plant material, the decomposition of cellulose is brought about by complex communities of interacting microorganisms. Because the substrate, cellulose, is insoluble, bacterial and fungal degradation occurs exocellularly, either in association with the outer cell envelope layer or extracellularly. Products of cellulose hydrolysis are available as carbon and energy sources for other microbes that inhabit environments in which cellulose is biodegraded, and this availability forms the basis of many microbial interactions that occur in these environments. This review discusses interactions among members of cellulose-decomposing microbial communities in various environments. It considers cellulose decomposing communities in soils, sediments, and aquatic environments, as well as those that degrade cellulose in association with animals. These microbial communities contribute significantly to the cycling of carbon on a global scale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Cellulase / metabolism
  • Cellulose / metabolism*
  • Ecology
  • Eukaryota / enzymology
  • Eukaryota / metabolism
  • Fermentation
  • Fungi / enzymology
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Insecta / microbiology
  • Rumen / microbiology
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Vertebrates / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology


  • Cellulose
  • Cellulase