Nanoscale Structure of Organic Matter Could Explain Litter Decomposition

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 11:20 AM
Gabriella Papa and Fabrizio Adani, University of Milan - Bicocca, Milan, Italy
According to the literature biochemical catalyses are limited in their actions because of the complex macroscopic and, above all, microscopic structures of cell wall that limit mass transportation (i.e. 3D structure). Our study on energy crop showed that plant digestibility increased by modifying the 3D cell wall microstructure. Results obtained were ascribed to the enlargement, such as effectively measured, of the pore spaces between cellulose fibrils. Therefore we postulated that 3 D structure of plant residues drives degradability in soil determining its recalcitrance in short time.

Here we focused on the drivers of short-term decomposition of organic matter (plant residues) in soils evaluating the architecture of plant tissues, captured via measurements of the microporosiy of the cell walls. Decomposition rates of a wide variety of biomass types were studied conducting experiments in both aerobic and anaerobic environments. Different analytical approaches were applied in order to characterize biomass at both chemical and physical level. Combined statistical approaches were used to examine the relationships between carbon mineralization and chemical/physical characteristics. The results revealed that degradation was significantly and negatively correlated with the micro-porosity surface (MiS) (surface of pores of 0.3-1.5 nm of diameter). The multiple regressions performed by using partial least square model enabled describing biomass biodegradability under either aerobic and anaerobic condition by using micro-porosity and aromatic-C content (assumed to be representative of lignin) as independent variables (R2 =0.97, R2cv =0.95 for aerobic condition; R2 =0.99, R2cv =0.98 for anaerobic condition, respectively). These results corroborate the hypothesis that plant tissues are physically protected from enzymatic attack by a microporous “sheath” that limit penetration into cell wall, and demonstrate the key role played by aromatic carbon, because of its chemical protection of the other cell wall polymers and its contribution to the three-dimensional (3D) cell wall structure.