New function for plant enzyme could lead to green chemistry

phys.org | 6/20/2019 | Staff
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Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered a new function in a plant enzyme that could have implications for the design of new chemical catalysts. The enzyme catalyzes, or initiates, one of the cornerstone chemical reactions needed to synthesize a wide array of organic molecules, including those found in lubricants, cosmetics, and those used as raw materials for making plastics.

"This enzyme could inspire a new form of 'green' chemistry," said Brookhaven Lab biochemist John Shanklin, who led the research. "Maybe we can adapt this biomolecule to make useful chemicals in plants, or use it as the basis for designing new bio-inspired catalysts to replace more expensive, toxic catalysts currently in use."

Shanklin - Team - Paper - Research - Journal

Shanklin and his team published a paper describing the research in the journal Plant Physiology.

The team made the discovery in the course of their ongoing research into enzymes that desaturate plant oils. These desaturase enzymes strip hydrogen atoms off specific adjacent carbon atoms in a hydrocarbon chain and insert a double bond between those carbon atoms. Shanklin's group had previously created a triple mutant version of a desaturase enzyme with interesting properties, and they were studying the three mutations separately to see what each one did.

Mutant - Enzymes - Bond - Carbon - Atoms

Two of the single mutant enzymes turned out to remove the double bond between adjacent carbon atoms and added an "OH" (hydroxyl group) to each carbon to produce a fatty acid with two adjacent hydroxyl groups.

Fatty acids containing such adjacent OH groups, known as diols, are important chemical components for making lubricants, like those that keep hot engines running smoothly. They can also be converted to building blocks for making plastics or other commodity products.

Diols - Chemicals - Lab - Shanklin

"Diols are really important industrial chemicals but making them artificially in the lab is quite problematic," Shanklin...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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