Lignin degradation plays a central role in the earth's carbon cycle, since it hinders decomposition of the most renewable carbon sources, cellulose and hemicellulose. White rot fungi able to cause complete wood decay are the most efficient lignin degraders known and they are perhaps nature's major agents for recycling the carbon of lignified tissues. Considerable research has been devoted to understanding the chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics underlying the degradation of lignin by these fungi. Many enzymes and several small molecules including reactive oxygen species and organic acids have been described as playing a role in lignin degradation by white rot fungi in nature. However, a major breakthrough is still required to understand the relative contribution of the individual components of the ligninolytic system and the synergism that exists between them. Overcoming the difficulties associated with studying the degradation of such a complex polymer could enable this. Obviously, progress in these directions would have far reaching implications and could be of considerable aid in developing the many potential biotechnological applications that have been proposed for the ligninolytic system of white rot fungi.
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