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1.  Discovery of a metabolic alternative to the classical mevalonate pathway 
eLife  2013;2:e00672.
Eukarya, Archaea, and some Bacteria encode all or part of the essential mevalonate (MVA) metabolic pathway clinically modulated using statins. Curiously, two components of the MVA pathway are often absent from archaeal genomes. The search for these missing elements led to the discovery of isopentenyl phosphate kinase (IPK), one of two activities necessary to furnish the universal five-carbon isoprenoid building block, isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP). Unexpectedly, we now report functional IPKs also exist in Bacteria and Eukarya. Furthermore, amongst a subset of species within the bacterial phylum Chloroflexi, we identified a new enzyme catalyzing the missing decarboxylative step of the putative alternative MVA pathway. These results demonstrate, for the first time, a functioning alternative MVA pathway. Key to this pathway is the catalytic actions of a newly uncovered enzyme, mevalonate phosphate decarboxylase (MPD) and IPK. Together, these two discoveries suggest that unforeseen variation in isoprenoid metabolism may be widespread in nature.
eLife digest
Living things make thousands of chemicals that are vital for life, and are also useful as medicines, perfumes, and food additives. The largest family of these natural chemicals is called the isoprenoids, and members of this family are found in all three domains of life: the eukaryotes (such as plants and animals), the Archaea (an ancient group of single-celled microbes), and bacteria.
The isoprenoids are made from a smaller building block called isopentenyl diphosphate, IPP for short, that contains five carbon atoms and two phosphate groups. IPP can be produced in two ways. The classical mevalonate pathway is found in most eukaryotes, including humans; statin drugs are used to inhibit this pathway to treat those with high cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. The second pathway does not use the compound mevalonate and is found in many, but not all, bacteria as well as the chloroplasts of plants. Until recently, however, the enzymes needed for the last two steps of the classical mevalonate pathway appeared to be missing in the Archaea and in some bacteria.
Researchers subsequently discovered that an enzyme called isopentenyl phosphate kinase, shortened to IPK, was responsible for one of these two missing steps—the addition of IPP’s second phosphate group. The way this enzyme worked also suggested that there was an alternative mevalonate pathway in which the order of the last two steps was reversed. However, the identity of the enzyme responsible for the other step—the removal of a molecule of carbon dioxide to make the starting material needed by IPK—remained mysterious.
Now Dellas et al. have discovered the enzyme responsible for this missing step in Green non-sulphur bacteria, confirming the existence of the alternative mevalonate pathway for the first time. Previously it had been thought that this enzyme acted in the classical mevalonate pathway; but in fact this enzyme has evolved a new function and is not involved in the classical pathway at all. Moreover, Dellas et al. show that Green non-sulphur bacteria, and some eukaryotes, also have functional IPK enzymes. This means that IPK has now unexpectedly been observed in all three domains of life, and hints at another target to medically control mevalonate pathways. The discovery of the missing enzyme in the alternative pathway opens the door to the re-examination of many other living things, to find which have the new pathway and to work out why.
PMCID: PMC3857490  PMID: 24327557
Mevalonate pathway; Isopentenyl diphosphate; Archaea; Mevalonate phosphate decarboxylase; Chloroflexi; Plants; Arabidopsis; Other
2.  A Survey of Protein Structures from Archaeal Viruses  
Life : Open Access Journal  2013;3(1):118-130.
Viruses that infect the third domain of life, Archaea, are a newly emerging field of interest. To date, all characterized archaeal viruses infect archaea that thrive in extreme conditions, such as halophilic, hyperthermophilic, and methanogenic environments. Viruses in general, especially those replicating in extreme environments, contain highly mosaic genomes with open reading frames (ORFs) whose sequences are often dissimilar to all other known ORFs. It has been estimated that approximately 85% of virally encoded ORFs do not match known sequences in the nucleic acid databases, and this percentage is even higher for archaeal viruses (typically 90%–100%). This statistic suggests that either virus genomes represent a larger segment of sequence space and/or that viruses encode genes of novel fold and/or function. Because the overall three-dimensional fold of a protein evolves more slowly than its sequence, efforts have been geared toward structural characterization of proteins encoded by archaeal viruses in order to gain insight into their potential functions. In this short review, we provide multiple examples where structural characterization of archaeal viral proteins has indeed provided significant functional and evolutionary insight.
PMCID: PMC4187194  PMID: 25371334
archaeal virus; thermophile; structural homology; archaea
3.  Stereochemical Basis for Engineered Pyrrolysyl-tRNA Synthetase and the Efficient in Vivo Incorporation of Structurally Divergent Non-native Amino Acids 
ACS Chemical Biology  2011;6(7):733-743.
Unnatural amino acids (Uaas) can be translationally incorporated into proteins in vivo using evolved tRNA/aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (RS) pairs, affording chemistries inaccessible when restricted to the 20 natural amino acids. To date, most evolved RSs aminoacylate Uaas chemically similar to the native substrate of the wild-type RS; these conservative changes limit the scope of Uaa applications. Here, we adapt Methanosarcina mazei PylRS to charge a noticeably disparate Uaa, O-methyl-l-tyrosine (Ome). In addition, the 1.75 Å X-ray crystal structure of the evolved PylRS complexed with Ome and a non-hydrolyzable ATP analogue reveals the stereochemical determinants for substrate selection. Catalytically synergistic active site mutations remodel the substrate-binding cavity, providing a shortened but wider active site. In particular, mutation of Asn346, a residue critical for specific selection and turnover of the Pyl chemical core, accommodates different side chains while the central role of Asn346 in aminoacylation is rescued through compensatory hydrogen bonding provided by A302T. This multifaceted analysis provides a new starting point for engineering PylRS to aminoacylate a significantly more diverse selection of Uaas than previously anticipated.
PMCID: PMC3137230  PMID: 21545173
4.  Structural Elucidation of Cisoid and Transoid Cyclization Pathways of a Sesquiterpene Synthase Using 2-Fluorofarnesyl Diphosphates 
ACS Chemical Biology  2010;5(4):377-392.
Sesquiterpene skeletal complexity in nature originates from the enzyme-catalyzed ionization of (trans,trans)-farnesyl diphosphate (FPP) (1a) and subsequent cyclization along either 2,3-transoid or 2,3-cisoid farnesyl cation pathways. Tobacco 5-epi-aristolochene synthase (TEAS), a transoid synthase, produces cisoid products as a component of its minor product spectrum. To investigate the cryptic cisoid cyclization pathway in TEAS, we employed (cis,trans)-FPP (1b) as an alternative substrate. Strikingly, TEAS was catalytically robust in the enzymatic conversion of (cis,trans)-FPP (1b) to exclusively (≥99.5%) cisoid products. Further, crystallographic characterization of wild-type TEAS and a catalytically promiscuous mutant (M4 TEAS) with 2-fluoro analogues of both all-trans FPP (1a) and (cis,trans)-FPP (1b) revealed binding modes consistent with preorganization of the farnesyl chain. These results provide a structural glimpse into both cisoid and transoid cyclization pathways efficiently templated by a single enzyme active site, consistent with the recently elucidated stereochemistry of the cisoid products. Further, computational studies using density functional theory calculations reveal concerted, highly asynchronous cyclization pathways leading to the major cisoid cyclization products. The implications of these discoveries for expanded sesquiterpene diversity in nature are discussed.
PMCID: PMC2860371  PMID: 20175559
5.  Mutation of Archaeal Isopentenyl Phosphate Kinase Highlights Mechanism and Guides Phosphorylation of Additional Isoprenoid Monophosphates 
ACS Chemical Biology  2010;5(6):589-601.
The biosynthesis of isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) from either the mevalonate (MVA) or the 1-deoxy-d-xylulose 5-phosphate (DXP) pathway provides the key metabolite for primary and secondary isoprenoid biosynthesis. Isoprenoid metabolism plays crucial roles in membrane stability, steroid biosynthesis, vitamin production, protein localization, defense and communication, photoprotection, sugar transport, and glycoprotein biosynthesis. Recently, an alternative branch of the MVA pathway was discovered in the archaeon Methanocaldococcus jannaschii involving a small molecule kinase, isopentenyl phosphate kinase (IPK). IPK belongs to the amino acid kinase (AAK) superfamily. In vitro, IPK phosphorylates isopentenyl monophosphate (IP) in an ATP and Mg2+-dependent reaction producing IPP. Here, we describe crystal structures of IPK from M. jannaschii refined to nominal resolutions of 2.0−2.8 Å. Notably, an active site histidine residue (His60) forms a hydrogen bond with the terminal phosphate of both substrate and product. This His residue serves as a marker for a subset of the AAK family that catalyzes phosphorylation of phosphate or phosphonate functional groups; the larger family includes carboxyl-directed kinases, which lack this active site residue. Using steady-state kinetic analysis of H60A, H60N, and H60Q mutants, the protonated form of the Nε2 nitrogen of His60 was shown to be essential for catalysis, most likely through hydrogen bond stabilization of the transition state accompanying transphosphorylation. Moreover, the structures served as the starting point for the engineering of IPK mutants capable of the chemoenzymatic synthesis of longer chain isoprenoid diphosphates from monophosphate precursors.
PMCID: PMC2887675  PMID: 20392112

Results 1-5 (5)