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Phytochemistry. 2002 Nov;61(6):611-20.

Unusual 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde synthase activity from tissue cultures of the vanilla orchid Vanilla planifolia.

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  • 1Plant Biology Division, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, 2510 Sam Noble Parkway, Ardmore, OK 73401, USA.


Tissue cultures of the vanilla orchid, Vanilla planifolia, produce the flavor compound vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) and vanillin precursors such as 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde. A constitutively expressed enzyme activity catalyzing chain shortening of a hydroxycinnamic acid, believed to be the first reaction specific for formation of vanilla flavor compounds, was identified in these cultures. The enzyme converts 4-coumaric acid non-oxidatively to 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde in the presence of a thiol reagent but with no co-factor requirement. Several forms of this 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde synthase (4HBS) were resolved and partially purified by a combination of hydrophobic interaction, ion exchange and gel filtration chromatography. These forms appear to be interconvertible. The unusual properties of the 4HBS, and its appearance in different protein fractions, raise questions as to its physiological role in vanillin biosynthesis in vivo.

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