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1.  Downregulation of a UDP-Arabinomutase Gene in Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) Results in Increased Cell Wall Lignin While Reducing Arabinose-Glycans 
Background: Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a C4 perennial prairie grass and a dedicated feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuels. Saccharification and biofuel yields are inhibited by the plant cell wall’s natural recalcitrance against enzymatic degradation. Plant hemicellulose polysaccharides such as arabinoxylans structurally support and cross-link other cell wall polymers. Grasses predominately have Type II cell walls that are abundant in arabinoxylan, which comprise nearly 25% of aboveground biomass. A primary component of arabinoxylan synthesis is uridine diphosphate (UDP) linked to arabinofuranose (Araf). A family of UDP-arabinopyranose mutase (UAM)/reversible glycosylated polypeptides catalyze the interconversion between UDP-arabinopyranose (UDP-Arap) and UDP-Araf.
Results: The expression of a switchgrass arabinoxylan biosynthesis pathway gene, PvUAM1, was decreased via RNAi to investigate its role in cell wall recalcitrance in the feedstock. PvUAM1 encodes a switchgrass homolog of UDP-arabinose mutase, which converts UDP-Arap to UDP-Araf. Southern blot analysis revealed each transgenic line contained between one to at least seven T-DNA insertions, resulting in some cases, a 95% reduction of native PvUAM1 transcript in stem internodes. Transgenic plants had increased pigmentation in vascular tissues at nodes, but were otherwise similar in morphology to the non-transgenic control. Cell wall-associated arabinose was decreased in leaves and stems by over 50%, but there was an increase in cellulose. In addition, there was a commensurate change in arabinose side chain extension. Cell wall lignin composition was altered with a concurrent increase in lignin content and transcript abundance of lignin biosynthetic genes in mature tillers. Enzymatic saccharification efficiency was unchanged in the transgenic plants relative to the control.
Conclusion: Plants with attenuated PvUAM1 transcript had increased cellulose and lignin in cell walls. A decrease in cell wall-associated arabinose was expected, which was likely caused by fewer Araf residues in the arabinoxylan. The decrease in arabinoxylan may cause a compensation response to maintain cell wall integrity by increasing cellulose and lignin biosynthesis. In cases in which increased lignin is desired, e.g., feedstocks for carbon fiber production, downregulated UAM1 coupled with altered expression of other arabinoxylan biosynthesis genes might result in even higher production of lignin in biomass.
PMCID: PMC5081414  PMID: 27833622
switchgrass; hemicellulose arabinoxylan; UDP-arabinopyranose mutase/reversible glycosylated polypeptide; biofuel; recalcitrance
2.  The Biosynthesis of UDP-d-QuiNAc in Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0133790.
N-acetylquinovosamine (2-acetamido-2,6-di-deoxy-d-glucose, QuiNAc) is a relatively rare amino sugar residue found in glycans of few pathogenic gram-negative bacteria where it can play a role in infection. However, little is known about QuiNAc-related polysaccharides in gram-positive bacteria. In a routine screen for bacillus glycan grown at defined medium, it was surprising to identify a QuiNAc residue in polysaccharides isolated from this gram-positive bacterium. To gain insight into the biosynthesis of these glycans, we report the identification of an operon in Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 that contains two genes encoding activities not previously described in gram-positive bacteria. One gene encodes a UDP-N-acetylglucosamine C4,6-dehydratase, (abbreviated Pdeg) that converts UDP-GlcNAc to UDP-4-keto-4,6-d-deoxy-GlcNAc (UDP-2-acetamido-2,6-dideoxy-α-d-xylo-4-hexulose); and the second encodes a UDP-4-reductase (abbr. Preq) that converts UDP-4-keto-4,6-d-deoxy-GlcNAc to UDP-N-acetyl-quinovosamine in the presence of NADPH. Biochemical studies established that the sequential Pdeg and Preq reaction product is UDP-d-QuiNAc as determined by mass spectrometry and one- and two-dimensional NMR experiments. Also, unambiguous evidence for the conversions of the dehydratase product, UDP-α-d-4-keto-4,6-deoxy-GlcNAc, to UDP-α-d-QuiNAc was obtained using real-time 1H-NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. The two genes overlap by 4 nucleotides and similar operon organization and identical gene sequences were also identified in a few other Bacillus species suggesting they may have similar roles in the lifecycle of this class of bacteria important to human health. Our results provide new information about the ability of Bacilli to form UDP-QuiNAc and will provide insight to evaluate their role in the biology of Bacillus.
PMCID: PMC4514872  PMID: 26207987
3.  Real-time NMR monitoring of intermediates and labile products of the bifunctional enzyme UDP-apiose/UDP-xylose synthase 
Carbohydrate research  2009;344(9):1072-1078.
The conversion of UDP-α-d-gdlucuronic acid to UDP-α-d-xylose and UDP-α-d-apiose by a bifunctional potato enzyme UDP-apiose/UDP-xylose synthase was studied using real-time nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. UDP-α-d-glucuronic acid is converted via the intermediate uridine 5′-β-l-threo-pentapyranosyl-4″-ulose diphosphate to UDP-α-d-apiose and simultaneously to UDP-α-d-xylose. The UDP-α-d-apiose that is formed is unstable and is converted to α-d-apio-furanosyl-1,2-cyclic phosphate and UMP. High-resolution real-time NMR spectroscopy is a powerful tool for the direct and quantitative characterization of previously undetected transient and labile components formed during a complex enzyme-catalyzed reaction.
PMCID: PMC4000172  PMID: 19375693
Apiose; UDP-apiose; UDP-xylose synthase; NMR spectroscopy; Stocsy
4.  Biosynthesis of UDP-glucuronic acid and UDP-galacturonic acid in Bacillus cereus subsp. cytotoxis NVH 391–98 
The FEBS journal  2011;279(1):100-112.
The food borne pathogen, Bacillus cereus, produces uronic acid-containing glycans that are secreted in a shielding biofilm environment, and certain alkaliphilic Bacillus deposit uronate-glycan polymers in the cell wall when adapting to alkaline environments. The source of these acidic sugars is unknown, and here we have described the functional identification of an operon in B. cerues subsp. cytotoxis NVH 391–98 that comprises genes involved in the synthesis of UDP-uronic acids in Bacillus spp. Within the operon, a UDP-glucose 6-dehydrognease (UGlcDH) converts UDP-glucose in the presence of NAD+ to UDP-glucuronic acid and NADH, and a UDP-GlcA 4-epimerase (UGlcAE) converts UDP-glucuronic acid to UDP-galacturonic acid. Interestingly, in vitro both enzymes can utilize the TDP-sugar forms as well, albeit at lower catalytic efficiency. Unlike most of the very few bacterial 4-epimerases that have been characterized, which are promiscuous, the B. cereus UGlcAE enzyme is very specific and cannot use UDP-Glc, UDP-GlcNAc, UDP-GlcNAcA or UDP-Xyl as substrates. Size exclusion chromatography suggests that UGlcAE is active as a monomer, unlike the dimeric form of plant enzymes; the Bacillus UGlcDH is also found as a monomer. Phylogenic analysis further suggests that the Bacillus UGlcAE may have evolved separately from other bacterial and plant epimerases. Our results provide insight into the formation and function of uronic acid-containing glycans in the lifecycle of B. cereus and related species containing homologous operons as well as the basis to determine the importance of these acidic glycans. We also discuss the ability to target UGlcAE as a drug candidate.
PMCID: PMC3240692  PMID: 22023070
Bacillus; hexuronic acid; UDP-glucuronic acid; UDP-galacturonic acid; biofilm; alkalinity
5.  Enhancing a Pathway-Genome Database (PGDB) to capture subcellular localization of metabolites and enzymes: the nucleotide-sugar biosynthetic pathways of Populus trichocarpa 
Understanding how cellular metabolism works and is regulated requires that the underlying biochemical pathways be adequately represented and integrated with large metabolomic data sets to establish a robust network model. Genetically engineering energy crops to be less recalcitrant to saccharification requires detailed knowledge of plant polysaccharide structures and a thorough understanding of the metabolic pathways involved in forming and regulating cell-wall synthesis. Nucleotide-sugars are building blocks for synthesis of cell wall polysaccharides. The biosynthesis of nucleotide-sugars is catalyzed by a multitude of enzymes that reside in different subcellular organelles, and precise representation of these pathways requires accurate capture of this biological compartmentalization. The lack of simple localization cues in genomic sequence data and annotations however leads to missing compartmentalization information for eukaryotes in automatically generated databases, such as the Pathway-Genome Databases (PGDBs) of the SRI Pathway Tools software that drives much biochemical knowledge representation on the internet. In this report, we provide an informal mechanism using the existing Pathway Tools framework to integrate protein and metabolite sub-cellular localization data with the existing representation of the nucleotide-sugar metabolic pathways in a prototype PGDB for Populus trichocarpa. The enhanced pathway representations have been successfully used to map SNP abundance data to individual nucleotide-sugar biosynthetic genes in the PGDB. The manually curated pathway representations are more conducive to the construction of a computational platform that will allow the simulation of natural and engineered nucleotide-sugar precursor fluxes into specific recalcitrant polysaccharide(s).
Database URL: The curated Populus PGDB is available in the BESC public portal at and the nucleotide-sugar biosynthetic pathways can be directly accessed at
PMCID: PMC3316911  PMID: 22465851
6.  Biosynthesis of UDP-xylose and UDP-arabinose in Sinorhizobium meliloti 1021: first characterization of a bacterial UDP-xylose synthase, and UDP-xylose 4-epimerase 
Microbiology  2011;157(Pt 1):260-269.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a soil bacterium that fixes nitrogen after being established inside nodules that can form on the roots of several legumes, including Medicago truncatula. A mutation in an S. meliloti gene (lpsB) required for lipopolysaccharide synthesis has been reported to result in defective nodulation and an increase in the synthesis of a xylose-containing glycan. Glycans containing xylose as well as arabinose are also formed by other rhizobial species, but little is known about their structures and the biosynthetic pathways leading to their formation. To gain insight into the biosynthesis of these glycans and their biological roles, we report the identification of an operon in S. meliloti 1021 that contains two genes encoding activities not previously described in bacteria. One gene encodes a UDP-xylose synthase (Uxs) that converts UDP-glucuronic acid to UDP-xylose, and the second encodes a UDP-xylose 4-epimerase (Uxe) that interconverts UDP-xylose and UDP-arabinose. Similar genes were also identified in other rhizobial species, including Rhizobium leguminosarum, suggesting that they have important roles in the life cycle of this agronomically important class of bacteria. Functional studies established that recombinant SmUxs1 is likely to be active as a dimer and is inhibited by NADH and UDP-arabinose. SmUxe is inhibited by UDP-galactose, even though this nucleotide sugar is not a substrate for the 4-epimerase. Unambiguous evidence for the conversions of UDP-glucuronic acid to UDP-α-d-xylose and then to UDP-β-l-arabinose (UDP-arabinopyranose) was obtained using real-time 1H-NMR spectroscopy. Our results provide new information about the ability of rhizobia to form UDP-xylose and UDP-arabinose, which are then used for the synthesis of xylose- and arabinose-containing glycans.
PMCID: PMC3068629  PMID: 20847005
7.  The Synthesis and Origin of the Pectic Polysaccharide Rhamnogalacturonan II – Insights from Nucleotide Sugar Formation and Diversity 
There is compelling evidence showing that the structurally complex pectic polysaccharide rhamnogalacturonan II (RG-II) exists in the primary cell wall as a borate cross-linked dimer and that this dimer is required for the assembly of a functional wall and for normal plant growth and development. The results of several studies have also established that RG-II structure and cross-linking is conserved in vascular plants and that RG-II likely appeared early in the evolution of land plants. Two features that distinguish RG-II from other plant polysaccharides are that RG-II is composed of 13 different glycoses linked to each other by up to 22 different glycosidic linkages and that RG-II is the only polysaccharide known to contain both apiose and aceric acid. Thus, one key event in land plant evolution was the emergence of genes encoding nucleotide sugar biosynthetic enzymes that generate the activated forms of apiose and aceric acid required for RG-II synthesis. Many of the genes involved in the generation of the nucleotide sugars used for RG-II synthesis have been functionally characterized. By contrast, only one glycosyltransferase involved in the assembly of RG-II has been identified. Here we provide an overview of the formation of the activated sugars required for RG-II synthesis and point to the possible cellular and metabolic processes that could be involved in assembling and controlling the formation of a borate cross-linked RG-II molecule. We discuss how nucleotide sugar synthesis is compartmentalized and how this may control the flux of precursors to facilitate and regulate the formation of RG-II.
PMCID: PMC3355719  PMID: 22639675
RG-II biosynthesis; UDP-apiose; CMP-kdo; aceric acid; Golgi; wall evolution; borate; dimer
8.  Evolution of Plant Nucleotide-Sugar Interconversion Enzymes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27995.
Nucleotide-diphospho-sugars (NDP-sugars) are the building blocks of diverse polysaccharides and glycoconjugates in all organisms. In plants, 11 families of NDP-sugar interconversion enzymes (NSEs) have been identified, each of which interconverts one NDP-sugar to another. While the functions of these enzyme families have been characterized in various plants, very little is known about their evolution and origin. Our phylogenetic analyses indicate that all the 11 plant NSE families are distantly related and most of them originated from different progenitor genes, which have already diverged in ancient prokaryotes. For instance, all NSE families are found in the lower land plant mosses and most of them are also found in aquatic algae, implicating that they have already evolved to be capable of synthesizing all the 11 different NDP-sugars. Particularly interesting is that the evolution of RHM (UDP-L-rhamnose synthase) manifests the fusion of genes of three enzymatic activities in early eukaryotes in a rather intriguing manner. The plant NRS/ER (nucleotide-rhamnose synthase/epimerase-reductase), on the other hand, evolved much later from the ancient plant RHMs through losing the N-terminal domain. Based on these findings, an evolutionary model is proposed to explain the origin and evolution of different NSE families. For instance, the UGlcAE (UDP-D-glucuronic acid 4-epimerase) family is suggested to have evolved from some chlamydial bacteria. Our data also show considerably higher sequence diversity among NSE-like genes in modern prokaryotes, consistent with the higher sugar diversity found in prokaryotes. All the NSE families are widely found in plants and algae containing carbohydrate-rich cell walls, while sporadically found in animals, fungi and other eukaryotes, which do not have or have cell walls with distinct compositions. Results of this study were shown to be highly useful for identifying unknown genes for further experimental characterization to determine their functions in the synthesis of diverse glycosylated molecules.
PMCID: PMC3220709  PMID: 22125650

Results 1-8 (8)