Cellulose and associated polysaccharides, such as xylans, comprise the major portion of the plant cell wall as structural polymers. As the plants evolved and distributed first in the seas and then on land, following their demise, the accumulated cellulosic materials had to be assimilated and returned to nature. Thus the cellulose-degrading bacteria have evolved to complement lignin-degrading microbial systems for the purpose of restoring the tremendous quantities of organic components of the plant cell wall to the environment for continued life cycles of carbon and energy on the global scale. This chapter is a sequel to a previous chapter of the same title from the second edition of this treatise (Coughlan MP, Mayer F (1992) The cellulose-decomposing bacteria and their enzyme systems. In: Balows A, Trüper HG, Dworkin M, Harder W, Schleifer K-H (eds) The prokaryotes, vol I, 2nd edn. Springer, New York, pp 459–516.) and represents an update of our own subsequent chapter (Bayer EA, Shoham Y, Lamed R (2006) Cellulose-decomposing prokaryotes and their enzyme systems. In: Dworkin M, Falkow S, Rosenberg E, Schleifer K-H, Stackebrandt E (eds) The prokaryotes, vol 2, 3rd edn. Springer, New York, pp 578–617.) which appeared in the third edition. Although the basic elements of the previous chapters are still essentially up to date, the field of the cellulose-decomposing bacteria has since advanced greatly, owing to two major factors: (1) the advent, progression, and increasing facility of genome- and metagenome-sequencing efforts and (2) the current initiatives to utilize plant-derived biomass for the production of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels for an energy source.
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