Is there an effective way to use cellulase(s) and/or lignase(s) to remove unwanted plant debris from a sample?

I'm working with a series of fresh water grab samples for environmental assessment. The objective is to separate out the benthic invertebrates as a proxy for biodiversity and habitat health. We use 500 micron mesh to remove the bulk of the sediments but this leaves several liters of fine plant material in a variety of stages of decomposition. While searching through yet another petridish of rotting sphagnum I wondered if there might not be a better way to do this?

Is there an effective protocol for decomposing the plant matter using some mixture of cellulases and lignases? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! No experience with this but I would guess that cellulase treatment would be far too slow and I wouldn't have thought there was much lignin in sphagnum. Are these samples of living organisms or have they been fixed in some way? If live, could you use a variation of the technique I've seen where leaf litter is heated in funnels? Maybe you could try using noxious chemicals or heat to drive the invertebrates from the sphagnum slurry? $\endgroup$ – tyersome Dec 6 '19 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks tyresome. The samples aren't entirely sphagnum and have a healthy amount of grasses, leaves, etc. Pretty much a stew of anything that fell into or grew in the river. The critters have been preserved in ethanol and are hopefully dead. $\endgroup$ – L84Dnr Dec 6 '19 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ You could try experimenting with enzymes on some samples you've already analyzed — if you find something that works publish it and post your answer here! The only alternative I can think of is if you could find a stain that was selective for invertebrates (I was thinking about chitin, but then realized your samples must be riddled with fungi). Good luck! $\endgroup$ – tyersome Dec 7 '19 at 22:47

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