Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT biologists solve vitamin puzzle

22.03.2007
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:
http://www.mit.edu

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

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University

nachricht Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Transport of molecular motors into cilia

28.03.2017 | Life Sciences

A novel hybrid UAV that may change the way people operate drones

28.03.2017 | Information Technology

NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts

28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>