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A soil microbe uses 'implausible' chemistry to produce herbicidal compound

A soil microbe that uses chemical warfare to fight off competitors employs an unusual chemical pathway in the manufacture of its arsenal, researchers report, making use of an enzyme that can do what no other enzyme is known to do: break a non-activated carbon-carbon bond in a single step.

Their study, appearing this week in the journal Nature, provides the first three-dimensional structure of the enzyme, hydroxyethylphosphonate dioxygenase (HEPD) and proposes a mechanism by which it performs its task.

University of Illinois researchers first reported the enzyme in Nature Chemical Biology in 2007, said Wilfred van der Donk, an author on both papers with microbiologist William Metcalf.

"Our team discovered this very implausible chemical reaction," van der Donk said. "And the more we learned about it the more unusual it became. The enzyme is unusual because it breaks a carbon-carbon bond without needing anything except oxygen."
 
 

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