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The anaerobic degradation of different fractions of rice straw in anoxic paddy soil was investigated. Rice straw was divided up into stem, leaf sheath and leaf blade. The different straw fractions were mixed with paddy soil and incubated under anoxic conditions. Fermentation of straw components started immediately and resulted in transient accumulation of acetate, propionate, butyrate, isobutyrate, valerate, isovalerate and caproate with much higher concentrations in the presence than in the absence of straw. Also some unidentified compounds with UV absorption could be detected. The maximum concentrations of these compounds were different when using different straw fractions, suggesting differences in the degradation pathway of these straw fractions during the early phase of incubation, i.e. with Fe(III) and sulfate serving as oxidants. When concentrations of the intermediates decreased to background values, CH(4) production started. Rates of CH(4)unamended soil. During the methanogenic phase, the percentage contribution of fermentation products to CH(4) production was determined by inhibition with 2-bromoethanesulfonate (BES). Acetate (48-83%) and propionate (18-28%) were found to be the main intermediates of the carbon flow to CH(4), irrespective of the fraction of the rice straw or its absence. Mass balance calculations showed that 84-89% of CH(4) was formed via acetate in the various incubations. Radiotracer experiments showed that 11-27% of CH(4) was formed from H(2)/CO(2), thus confirming that acetate contributed 73-89% to methanogenesis. Our results show that the addition of rice straw and the fraction of the straw affected the fermentation pattern only in the early phase of degradation, but had no effect on the degradation pathway during the later methanogenic phase.  

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