The article in which the team reports its finding has been declared Paper of the Week by the Journal of Biological Chemistry, an honour given to only one in every hundred articles.
The biological production of vitamin C in plants, fungi and many animals is a complicated process that involves enzymes. A large group of these catalysts need oxygen to function well. In plants, a chemical, cytochrome C, replaces the function of oxygen. Cytochrome C or oxygen ensures that the co-factor flavin in the enzyme's action centre is brought back to its original state after reaction. Because of this restoration, the enzyme is ready for a new reaction.
The research team wondered why the one group of enzymes reacted with oxygen and the other, closely related group did not. How does the oxygen reach the centre of the enzyme, which consists of about 500 hundred linked building blocks (amino acids) of different sizes and forms. This string of building blocks is, as it were, bunched up into a little lump with 'holes, caverns and tunnels' in between. Oxygen has to seep through this little lump or clear a path through the tangle of amino acids in order to penetrate the hidden flavin in the centre.
Imagine, the researchers said, that in some enzymes oxygen can reach the enzyme's centre through tunnels and holes. You should then be able to discover the route using the structure. Unfortunately, there was no crystalline structure of the enzyme in question on hand. There was, however, one other possibility. By laying side by side all of the individual building blocks of the enzymes that react with oxygen and those that do not, the differences should become clear.
Comparing both analyses brought a subtle difference to light. Only one building block, number 113, at the end of a possible route turned out to be a bit different. This difference relates to the amino acid alanine. When alanine was replaced by the smaller building block glycine at that position, it turned out that the enzyme was suddenly oxygen permeable. And not just a little bit. The difference is so large it's as if a dam has burst: a factor of 400.
How is it possible that one building block in a construction of 500 blocks can have so much effect? The researchers support the tunnel theory: the building block alanine has four different protrusions, while glycine has only three. Alanine's extra protrusion, a methyl group, blocks the tunnel and prevents oxygen from penetrating the centre. At this site, alanine works as a gatekeeper and it keeps the door tightly shut.
But, why isn't the gate just simply open? Evidently, having a strict gatekeeper has its advantages. It turns out that the aggressive substance hydrogen peroxide ('domestic bleach') forms in the reaction with oxygen. Hydrogen peroxide accelerates the ageing of cells and a plant, which makes a lot of vitamin C, does not like this.
The way is now open to prepare vitamin C in a natural way. However, the chemical route already exists, is cheap and yields an identical product. The deciphered mechanism is, however, also applicable to similar biochemical reactions, for example, the preparation of vanilla. Additionally, the deciphered process can mean a step forward in synthetic biology in which products that do not occur or hardly occur in nature can be produced in a natural way.
Jac Niessen | alfa
Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery
20.01.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH
Seeking structure with metagenome sequences
20.01.2017 | DOE/Joint Genome Institute
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences
20.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences