Australia and New Zealand were separated from other land masses for millennia, and the unique marsupials found there such as kangaroos and wallabies have forestomachs adapted to efficiently break down lignocellulosic plant mass to extract nutrients.
|Australian marsupials such as the Tammar wallaby (above) contain unique, uncultured bacteria that could be useful in breaking down cellulosic biomass for biofuels. (Credit: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo)
These forestomachs may contain unique microbes that could be useful in breaking down plant biomass for the production of cellulosic biofuels. To answer this question, in 2007 the DOE JGI selected sequencing the foregut microbiome of the Tammar wallaby as one of the Community Sequencing Program projects.
In a metagenomic analysis published online July 28, 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team including DOE JGI’s Susannah Tringe, Kerrie Barry, Jan-Fang Cheng, and Phil Hugenholtz, now director of the Australian Center for Ecogenomics at the University of Queensland, looked at the plant biomass conversion process of the Tammar wallaby’s foregut microbiome.
The wallaby microbiome DNA was sequenced using Sanger and 454 pyrosequencing, and the data was annotated using the DOE JGI’s Integrated Microbial Genomes with Microbiome (IMG/M) system. Among their findings, the team identified unique bacterial lineages that break down drought-tolerant plants, which is common in Australia’s native species. They said the data indicate that the enzymes in the Tammar wallaby and other Australian animals are unique and, in a nod to other DOE JGI metagenomic sequencing projects, added that “their repertoire … is distinct from those of the microbiomes of higher termites and the bovine rumen.”