Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


MIT biologists solve vitamin puzzle

Solving a mystery that has puzzled scientists for decades, MIT and Harvard researchers have discovered the final piece of the synthesis pathway of vitamin B12-the only vitamin synthesized exclusively by microorganisms.

B12, the most chemically complex of all vitamins, is essential for human health. Four Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research related to B12, but one fragment of the molecule remained an enigma-until now.

The researchers report that a single enzyme synthesizes the fragment, and they outline a novel reaction mechanism that requires cannibalization of another vitamin.

The work, which has roots in an MIT undergraduate teaching laboratory, "completes a piece of our understanding of a process very fundamental to life," said Graham Walker, MIT professor of biology and senior author of a paper on the work that will appear in the March 22 online edition of Nature.

Vitamin B12 is produced by soil microbes that live in symbiotic relationships with plant roots. During the 1980s, an undergraduate research course taught by Walker resulted in a novel method for identifying mutant strains of a soil microbe that could not form a symbiotic relationship with a plant.

Walker's team has now found that one such mutant has a defective form of an enzyme known as BluB that leaves it unable to synthesize B12.

BluB catalyzes the formation of the B12 fragment known as DMB, which joins with another fragment, produced by a separate pathway, to form the vitamin. One of several possible reasons why it took so long to identify BluB is that some bacteria lacking the enzyme can form DMB through an alternate pathway, Walker said.

One of the most unusual aspects of BluB-catalyzed synthesis is its cannibalization of a cofactor derived from another vitamin, B2. During the reaction, the B2 cofactor is split into more than two fragments, one of which becomes DMB.

Normally, the B2-derived cofactor would assist in a reaction by temporarily holding electrons and then giving them away. Such cofactors are not consumed in the reaction.

Cannibalization of a cofactor has very rarely been observed before in vitamin synthesis or any type of biosynthetic pathway, says Michiko Taga, an MIT postdoctoral fellow in Walker's lab and lead co-author of the Nature paper.

"There are almost no other examples where the cofactor is used as a substrate," she said.

One early clue to BluB's function was that a gene related to it is located near several other genes involved in B12 synthesis in a different bacterium. Still, the researchers were not convinced that one enzyme could perform all of the complicated chemistry needed to produce DMB.

"It looked like a number of things had to happen in order to make the DMB," said Walker. "We originally thought that BluB might be just one of several enzymes involved in DMB synthesis."

Therefore, it came as a surprise when Taga isolated the BluB protein and showed that it could make DMB all by itself.

Nicholas Larsen, lead co-author and a former college classmate of Taga's now at Harvard Medical School, did a crystallographic analysis of the protein after Taga told him about her research over coffee one day. The protein structure he developed clearly shows the "pocket" of BluB where the DMB synthesis reaction takes place.

Still to be explored is the question of why soil bacteria synthesize B12 at all, Walker said. Soil microorganisms don't require B12 to survive, and the plants they attach themselves to don't need it either, so he speculates that synthesizing B12 may enable the bacteria to withstand "challenges" made by the plants during the formation of the symbiotic relationship.

More than 30 genes are involved in vitamin B12 synthesis, and "that's a lot to carry around if you don't need to make it," Walker said.

The full implications of the new research will probably not be known for some years, which is often the case with basic research, Walker said. "I've been in many other situations in research where we did something very basic and did not immediately realize the importance of it, and subsequently the implications were found to be much more broad-reaching," he said.

Other authors on the paper are Annaleise Howard-Jones, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, and Christopher Walsh, professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Harvard Medical School.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research.

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:

Further reports about: B12 BluB DMB Universität Harvard cofactor synthesis synthesize

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>