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  1. The movement to transfer from petroleum-based products and materials to renewables does not necessarily have to bypass the use of oil. A new type of “black-gold” is readily abundant from the earth’s most abundant source of aromatic carbon: lignin. While fractionation of petroleum yields fuels and chemicals for a diverse set of industries, lignin fractionation using targeted catalysts has demonstrated the ability to generate monomers and oligomers rich in functional groups for polymer synthesis. This study explores the use of lignin-oil, generated from reductive catalytic fractionation of popular wood, to a hydroxyl-rich mixture of aromatics that is used to synthesize a thermoplastic non-isocyanate polyurethane. The lignin-oil is first converted to a cyclocarbonated derivative using a benign synthetic sequence and further polymerized with a diamine to yield the non-isocyanate TPU. While more work is underway to optimize the reaction conditions and meet typical mechanical properties of commercial materials, initial analysis shows thermoplastic behavior and flexible properties consistent with traditional thermoplastic polyurethanes.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 16, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2023
  3. Several bacteria possess components of catabolic pathways for the synthetic polyester poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). These proceed by hydrolyzing the ester linkages of the polymer to its monomers, ethylene glycol and terephthalate (TPA), which are further converted into common metabolites. These pathways are crucial for genetically engineering microbes for PET upcycling, prompting interest in their fundamental biochemical and structural elucidation. Terephthalate dioxygenase (TPADO) and its cognate reductase make up a complex multimetalloenzyme system that dihydroxylates TPA, activating it for enzymatic decarboxylation to yield protocatechuic acid (PCA). Here, we report structural, biochemical, and bioinformatic analyses of TPADO. Together, these data illustrate the remarkable adaptation of TPADO to the TPA dianion as its preferred substrate, with small, protonatable ring 2-carbon substituents being among the few permitted substrate modifications. TPADO is a Rieske [2Fe2S] and mononuclear nonheme iron-dependent oxygenase (Rieske oxygenase) that shares low sequence similarity with most structurally characterized members of its family. Structural data show an α-helix–associated histidine side chain that rotates into an Fe (II)–coordinating position following binding of the substrate into an adjacent pocket. TPA interactions with side chains in this pocket were not conserved in homologs with different substrate preferences. The binding mode of the less symmetric 2-hydroxy-TPA substrate,more »the observation that PCA is its oxygenation product, and the close relationship of the TPADO α-subunit to that of anthranilate dioxygenase allowed us to propose a structure-based model for product formation. Future efforts to identify, evolve, or engineer TPADO variants with desirable properties will be enabled by the results described here.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 29, 2023
  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2023
  5. Lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs) are a recently discovered class of monocopper enzymes broadly distributed across the tree of life. Recent reports indicate that LPMOs can use H2O2as an oxidant and thus carry out a novel type of peroxygenase reaction involving unprecedented copper chemistry. Here, we present a combined computational and experimental analysis of the H2O2-mediated reaction mechanism. In silico studies, based on a model of the enzyme in complex with a crystalline substrate, suggest that a network of hydrogen bonds, involving both the enzyme and the substrate, brings H2O2into a strained reactive conformation and guides a derived hydroxyl radical toward formation of a copper–oxyl intermediate. The initial cleavage of H2O2and subsequent hydrogen atom abstraction from chitin by the copper–oxyl intermediate are the main energy barriers. Stopped-flow fluorimetry experiments demonstrated that the priming reduction of LPMO–Cu(II) to LPMO–Cu(I) is a fast process compared to the reoxidation reactions. Using conditions resulting in single oxidative events, we found that reoxidation of LPMO–Cu(I) is 2,000-fold faster with H2O2than with O2, the latter being several orders of magnitude slower than rates reported for other monooxygenases. The presence of substrate accelerated reoxidation by H2O2, whereas reoxidation by O2became slower, supporting the peroxygenase paradigm. These insights intomore »the peroxygenase nature of LPMOs will aid in the development and application of enzymatic and synthetic copper catalysts and contribute to a further understanding of the roles of LPMOs in nature, varying from biomass conversion to chitinolytic pathogenesis-defense mechanisms.

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  6. Plastics pollution represents a global environmental crisis. In response, microbes are evolving the capacity to utilize synthetic polymers as carbon and energy sources. Recently, Ideonella sakaiensis was reported to secrete a two-enzyme system to deconstruct polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to its constituent monomers. Specifically, the I. sakaiensis PETase depolymerizes PET, liberating soluble products, including mono(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalate (MHET), which is cleaved to terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol by MHETase. Here, we report a 1.6 Å resolution MHETase structure, illustrating that the MHETase core domain is similar to PETase, capped by a lid domain. Simulations of the catalytic itinerary predict that MHETase follows the canonical two-step serine hydrolase mechanism. Bioinformatics analysis suggests that MHETase evolved from ferulic acid esterases, and two homologous enzymes are shown to exhibit MHET turnover. Analysis of the two homologous enzymes and the MHETase S131G mutant demonstrates the importance of this residue for accommodation of MHET in the active site. We also demonstrate that the MHETase lid is crucial for hydrolysis of MHET and, furthermore, that MHETase does not turnover mono(2-hydroxyethyl)-furanoate or mono(2-hydroxyethyl)-isophthalate. A highly synergistic relationship between PETase and MHETase was observed for the conversion of amorphous PET film to monomers across all nonzero MHETase concentrations tested. Finally,more »we compare the performance of MHETase:PETase chimeric proteins of varying linker lengths, which all exhibit improved PET and MHET turnover relative to the free enzymes. Together, these results offer insights into the two-enzyme PET depolymerization system and will inform future efforts in the biological deconstruction and upcycling of mixed plastics.« less
  7. Vascular plant pathogens travel long distances through host veins, leading to life-threatening, systemic infections. In contrast, nonvascular pathogens remain restricted to infection sites, triggering localized symptom development. The contrasting features of vascular and nonvascular diseases suggest distinct etiologies, but the basis for each remains unclear. Here, we show that the hydrolase CbsA acts as a phenotypic switch between vascular and nonvascular plant pathogenesis. cbsA was enriched in genomes of vascular phytopathogenic bacteria in the family Xanthomonadaceae and absent in most nonvascular species. CbsA expression allowed nonvascular Xanthomonas to cause vascular blight, while cbsA mutagenesis resulted in reduction of vascular or enhanced nonvascular symptom development. Phylogenetic hypothesis testing further revealed that cbsA was lost in multiple nonvascular lineages and more recently gained by some vascular subgroups, suggesting that vascular pathogenesis is ancestral. Our results overall demonstrate how the gain and loss of single loci can facilitate the evolution of complex ecological traits.