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Biological Chemistry

Enzyme degrades long-chain alkanes

March 26, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 13

Chinese scientists have unlocked an oil-eating bacterium's not-so-dirty secret: a hardy enzyme capable of degrading long-chain alkanes (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2007, 104, 5602). Lei Wang of Nankai University and coworkers used genomic and proteomic techniques to identify the alkane monoxygenase LadA in a strain of Geobacillus thermodenitrificans isolated from a deep oil reservoir in northern China. The heat-loving, easy-to-produce enzyme converts unreactive long-chain alkanes (up to C36) to the corresponding alcohols. LadA's taste for longer alkanes sets it apart from previously identified alkane-degrading enzymes, which only tackle shorter alkanes (C5-C16). This dietary preference makes the enzyme and G. thermodenitrificans attractive tools for remediating oil spills, the researchers believe. Plus, because LadA is easier to produce and easier to handle than other alkane oxygenases, it's more likely to find industrial use in the biosynthesis of complex molecules, the authors suggest. They have filed a patent and plan to commercialize the enzyme.

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