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  1. 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
  2. Microbial conversion of aromatic compounds is an emerging and promising strategy for valorization of the plant biopolymer lignin. A critical and often rate-limiting reaction in aromatic catabolism is O -aryl-demethylation of the abundant aromatic methoxy groups in lignin to form diols, which enables subsequent oxidative aromatic ring-opening. Recently, a cytochrome P450 system, GcoAB, was discovered to demethylate guaiacol (2-methoxyphenol), which can be produced from coniferyl alcohol-derived lignin, to form catechol. However, native GcoAB has minimal ability to demethylate syringol (2,6-dimethoxyphenol), the analogous compound that can be produced from sinapyl alcohol-derived lignin. Despite the abundance of sinapyl alcohol-based lignin in plants, no pathway for syringol catabolism has been reported to date. Here we used structure-guided protein engineering to enable microbial syringol utilization with GcoAB. Specifically, a phenylalanine residue (GcoA-F169) interferes with the binding of syringol in the active site, and on mutation to smaller amino acids, efficient syringol O -demethylation is achieved. Crystallography indicates that syringol adopts a productive binding pose in the variant, which molecular dynamics simulations trace to the elimination of steric clash between the highly flexible side chain of GcoA-F169 and the additional methoxy group of syringol. Finally, we demonstrate in vivo syringol turnover in Pseudomonas putida KT2440more »with the GcoA-F169A variant. Taken together, our findings highlight the significant potential and plasticity of cytochrome P450 aromatic O -demethylases in the biological conversion of lignin-derived aromatic compounds.« less