Newly discovered biosynthetic pathway in bacteria recipe for drug discovery and production | 9/11/2018 | Staff
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Microbes are master chefs of the biomolecular world; collectively, they harbor the ability to produce a vast array of unknown substances, some of which may have therapeutic or other useful properties. In searching for useful products, a team of chemists at Illinois have discovered a whole new class of microbial recipes.

"The kind of reactions that these enzymes are doing are mind-boggling... when we first saw them, we were scratching our heads," said Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator Wilfred van der Donk, who led the study. "Then we had to painstakingly prove that the reactions we thought the enzymes were doing, are indeed carried out."

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Van der Donk, who is also the Richard E. Heckert Endowed Chair in Chemistry, and his colleagues at Illinois collaborated with the laboratory of HHMI Investigator and University of California, Los Angeles Professor of Biological Chemistry and Physiology Tamir Gonen to confirm their findings, which were published this week in Science. The work was supported by HHMI and the National Institutes of Health.

First author Chi Ting and van der Donk are members of a research team at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology that aims to discover new natural products—the potentially useful substances produced by microbes—by exploring their genomes, a strategy called genome mining.

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"Genome mining allows you to start looking for compounds where you have absolutely no idea what they are going to be," van der Donk said. "Many labs in [our team] are trying to find new antibiotics by genome mining... you look for unusual things where we don't know what is being made, and then you try to make the compound in a friendly organism."

Cells use special chemical ingredients called amino acids to create proteins, which are the main structure and internal machinery of living things. Proteins are long chains made up...
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