"We decided to go on what some might call a fishing expedition," says Noel. "We used bioinformatics to find all organisms with the IPK enzyme; suspecting that these would all also have the decarboxylase we were looking for."
The approach worked: in an unusual type of bacteria that live in hot springs, Noel and his colleagues pinpointed a decarboxylase that works in conjunction with IPK. First, the decarboxylase removes carbon, and then IPK adds a phosphate--the process, reversing the last two steps of the classic mevalonate pathway, still ends in IPP. Surprisingly, the decarboxylase was one that had been identified in the past, but researchers had assumed it worked in the classic version of the mevalonate pathway--removing a carbon only after phosphate had been added. Noel's team showed that the protein, however, only worked with the alternate ending of the mevalonate pathway.
"Organisms don't always do what we think they do," says Noel. "And now that we have discovered this decarboxylase, us and many other labs can start looking in more detail at all these organisms and figuring out which have unexpected wrinkles in this pathway."
For companies that produce isoprenoids--as a source of drugs, scents and flavor molecules--the discovery provides a new potential chemical pathway to make their products with. "Now, both the decarboxylase and the IPK can be put into organisms that are engineered to produce a molecule of interest," says Noel. "It may be that we can build an organism with both the conventional and alternate pathways."
Whether having both pathways working at once could boost production is unknown, but Noel
|Contact: Kat Kearney|