Public questions spur the discovery of new bacterial species associated with lignin bioconversion of industrial waste

A citizen science project found that the greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora) is common in North American homes. Public response was to wonder ‘what good are they anyway?’ and ecology and evolution guided the search for potential benefit. We predicted that camel crickets and similar household species would likely host bacteria with the ability to degrade recalcitrant carbon compounds. Lignocellulose is particularly relevant as it is difficult to degrade yet is an important feedstock for pulp and paper, chemical and biofuel industries. We screened gut bacteria of greenhouse camel crickets and another household insect, the hide beetle (Dermestes maculatus) for the ability to grow on and degrade lignocellulose components as well as the lignocellulose-derived industrial waste product black liquor. From three greenhouse camel crickets and three hide beetles, 14 bacterial strains were identified that were capable of growth on lignocellulosic components, including lignin. Cedecea lapagei was selected for further study due to growth on most lignocellulose components. The C. lapagei secretome was identified using LC/MS/MS analysis. This work demonstrates a novel source of lignocellulose-degrading bacteria and introduces an effective workflow to identify bacterial enzymes for transforming industrial waste into value-added products. More generally, our research suggests the value of ecologically guided discovery of novel organisms.