Anaerobic degradation of carrageenan from the red macroalga Eucheuma cottonii

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Anaerobic degradation of the sulfated polysaccharide carrageenan was investigated by batch digestion of the red macroalga Eucheuma cottonii. During a 10-week incubation, ca. 60% of the starting E. cottonii biomass was fermented to CO2, methane, and volatile fatty acids (predominantly acetate). Carrageenan degradation paralleled the loss of total biomass, suggesting no preferential degradation or preservation. After 10 weeks of incubation, the carrageenan content of the remaining biomass was 51%, as opposed to 61% of the original E. cottonii biomass. Carrageenan recovered after 10 weeks of digestion had a lower average molecular weight (319,000 versus 510,000) and formed solutions with considerably lower viscosities than did intact carrageenan. The percent C and percent N content of the particulate material in the digestors increased over time, probably as a result of microbial growth. In contrast, the percent S content decreased continuously; the loss of sulfur was most likely a result of the hydrolysis of carrageenan. Results from this study indicate that it is not economically viable to process E. cottinii simultaneously for hydrocolloids and methane.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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