MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: how is silverfish able to digest paper?(what does the enzyme digest?)

Area: Biochemistry
Posted By: Dr. Ofer Markman, Post Doc, Physiology, Hebrew U. School of medicine
Date: Tue Sep 16 17:15:47 1997
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 874412425.Bc
how is silverfish able to digest paper?(what does the enzyme digest?)
Message ID Number: 874412425.Bc

The stability of paper and wood is a result of the inevailability of 
cellulose to the enzymes in most animal digestive tracts.  Cellulose is a 
chain of D-glucose, unlike starch, in cellulose the  glucose units are 
bound to each other by beta(1-4) bond. In starch, for example, it is an 
alpha(1-4) bond which is easily available to alpha-amylase, an enzyme in 
vertabrate intestinal tract.  Once one breaks the cellulose to its 
D-glucose units it is easily digestible by any organism.
According to Donald J. Borror (1995 - Grolier Encyclopedia) bristletails, 
to which the silverfish belongs, feed on the starchy material on the book 
binding and on the paperwall paste and  (although he did not specifically 
say so) not on the cellulose that compose the paper itself. 
Nevertheless there are insects that do digest cellulose, such as termites. 
According to Lehninger's principle of Biochemistry (1982), those utilize 
the enzyme cellulase which is secreted by parasitic microorganisms in 
their intestinal tract. 

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