Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Enzyme Detectives Uncover New Reactions: Implications For Engineering Biofuels

Date:
September 11, 2008
Source:
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
Summary:
Scientists have discovered a fundamental shift in an enzyme's function that could help expand the toolbox for engineering biofuels and other plant-based oil products.

Whittle (seated) and John Shanklin (standing).
Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

If your experiment doesn't go the way you expect, take a closer look -- something even more interesting may have happened. That strategy has led scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to discover a fundamental shift in an enzyme's function that could help expand the toolbox for engineering biofuels and other plant-based oil products. The results will be published online the week of September 8, 2008, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related Articles


The Brookhaven scientists were trying to understand the factors that affect where carbon-carbon double bonds are placed in fatty acids, the building blocks of oils and fats, when they are "desaturated" -- that is, when a desaturase enzyme removes hydrogen from the carbon chain.

"Placing double bonds in different positions allows you to change the structure of the fatty acids to make products with different potential applications," explained Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, who led the research. The ultimate goal: engineering designer plant oils to be used as biofuels and/or raw materials to reduce the use of petroleum.

To try to change the position of a double bond, the Brookhaven team modified a desaturase enzyme, changing three of the 363 amino acids in its protein sequence. But when they tested the modified enzyme and looked for the expected product with its altered double-bond position, it wasn't there.

They could have moved on and made different amino acid changes to accomplish the initial goal. But Brookhaven research associate Edward Whittle was determined to figure out what was going on with the unusual result. "The substrate, or starting material, had been used up, so something was being produced -- substrates can't just disappear," Whittle said. "If it wasn't the product we were looking for, what was it?"

Whittle's detective work uncovered a remarkable discovery. Instead of producing a shift in double-bond position, the enzyme modification had yielded three completely new products -- two variations of a hydroxylated product called an allylic alcohol and a fatty acid containing two double bonds. "This was a profound shift in enzyme function," noted Shanklin, who has been working with modified enzymes for 15 years. "Usually you make changes very gradually, getting a few percent of a new product mixed with the original product. This was more like throwing a switch, making the change in function close to complete."

The discovery is also notable because the starting enzyme, like other soluble (membrane-independent) desaturases, can ordinarily perform only its one specified reaction -- desaturation. This is unlike desaturase enzymes that reside within the cell membrane, which appear to be more versatile, performing a range of reactions. The soluble and membrane enzymes, however, do share one key feature: both perform reactions that require the production of a highly reactive form of oxygen.

"Since both classes of enzymes produce activated oxygen, in theory the soluble enzymes, like their membrane counterparts, should be able to perform a variety of reactions as well," Shanklin said. "Our work demonstrates that this is indeed the case. Making small changes to the enzyme's amino acid sequence has unlocked the soluble desaturase's potential to facilitate a wider range of chemistry than has been seen before," Shanklin said.

The challenge is to figure out how these structural changes to the enzyme lead to the observed changes in reaction chemistry. Computer-generated models combining the known structure of the starting enzyme in conjunction with its new substrates are helping the scientists understand how the enzyme works. The next step is to obtain real 3-D crystal structures of enzyme-substrate complexes, using the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven Lab, to see how they match up with the predictions.

Analyzing the structures of soluble enzymes is much simpler than obtaining structures for membrane enzymes. So, in effect, this work is a fast-track approach for correlating structure with function, which should help scientists gain general mechanistic insights relevant to both classes of enzymes. "Understanding how nature has figured out how to do this very difficult chemistry, and how to control that chemistry," Shanklin said, "would be extremely satisfying from a purely scientific perspective. But applying this knowledge could have benefits for us all."

"Right now, the materials we use -- the plastics, foams, nylons -- have been limited by the structures of petroleum-based chemical feedstocks. But if we understand how to engineer designer desaturase-like plant enzymes, we can tailor-make feedstocks with optimal properties, instead of relying on the properties of preexisting raw materials," said Shanklin. "We'd no longer have to say, 'this is what we have, so this is what we can make.' Instead, we could make the best feedstock for a particular application by designing the raw materials that will yield it."

This research was funded by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within DOE's Office of Science, and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. In addition to Shanklin and Whittle, the research team includes Amy Tremblay and Peter Buist of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Enzyme Detectives Uncover New Reactions: Implications For Engineering Biofuels." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080908185129.htm>.
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory. (2008, September 11). Enzyme Detectives Uncover New Reactions: Implications For Engineering Biofuels. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080908185129.htm
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Enzyme Detectives Uncover New Reactions: Implications For Engineering Biofuels." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080908185129.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA's First 3-D Printer In Space Creates Its First Object

NASA's First 3-D Printer In Space Creates Its First Object

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) The International Space Station is now using a proof-of-concept 3D printer to test additive printing in a weightless, isolated environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) Innovative recycling project in La Paz separates city waste and converts plastic garbage into school furniture made from 'plastiwood'. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) Researchers at Northwestern University are repurposing Blu-ray movies for better solar panel technology thanks to the discs' internal structures. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Today's Prostheses Are More Capable Than Ever

Today's Prostheses Are More Capable Than Ever

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) Advances in prosthetics are making replacement body parts stronger and more lifelike than they’ve ever been. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins