Microbial decomposition of keratin in nature—a new hypothesis of industrial relevance

Lene Lange, Yuhong Huang, Peter Kamp Busk

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

1253 Downloads (Pure)


Discovery of keratin-degrading enzymes from fungi and bacteria has primarily focused on finding one protease with efficient keratinase activity. Recently, an investigation was conducted of all keratinases secreted from a fungus known to grow on keratinaceous materials, such as feather, horn, and hooves. The study demonstrated that a minimum of three keratinases is needed to break down keratin, an endo-acting, an exo-acting, and an oligopeptide-acting keratinase. Further, several studies have documented that disruption of sulfur bridges of the keratin structure acts synergistically with the keratinases to loosen the molecular structure, thus giving the enzymes access to their substrate, the protein structure. With such complexity, it is relevant to compare microbial keratin decomposition with the microbial decomposition of well-studied polymers such as cellulose and chitin. Interestingly, it was recently shown that the specialized enzymes, lytic polysaccharide monoxygenases (LPMOs), shown to be important for breaking the recalcitrance of cellulose and chitin, are also found in keratin-degrading fungi. A holistic view of the complex molecular self-assembling structure of keratin and knowledge about enzymatic and boosting factors needed for keratin breakdown have been used to formulate a hypothesis for mode of action of the LPMOs in keratin decomposition and for a model for degradation of keratin in nature. Testing such hypotheses and models still needs to be done. Even now, the hypothesis can serve as an inspiration for designing industrial processes for keratin decomposition for conversion of unexploited waste streams, chicken feather, and pig bristles into bioaccessible animal feed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)2083–2096
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright: The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com


  • Fungal and bacterial keratinases
  • Keratin decomposition model
  • Lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases
  • Synergistic enzymes
  • Endo-,exo-,and oligoacting keratinases
  • Chemical boosters


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial decomposition of keratin in nature—a new hypothesis of industrial relevance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this