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J Bacteriol. 2003 Feb;185(3):1001-9.

Involvement of a protein tyrosine kinase in production of the polymeric bioemulsifier emulsan from the oil-degrading strain Acinetobacter lwoffii RAG-1.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Science, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


The genes associated with the biosynthesis of the polymeric bioemulsifier emulsan, produced by the oil-degrading Acinetobacter lwoffii RAG-1 are clustered within a 27-kbp region termed the wee cluster. This report demonstrates the involvement of two genes of the wee cluster of RAG-1, wzb and wzc, in emulsan biosynthesis. The two gene products, Wzc and Wzb were overexpressed and purified. Wzc exhibited ATP-dependent autophosphorylating protein tyrosine kinase activity. Wzb was found to be a protein tyrosine phosphatase capable of dephosphorylating the phosphorylated Wzc. Using the synthetic substrate p-nitrophenyl phosphate (PNPP) Wzb exhibited a V(max) of 12 micromol of PNPP min(-1) mg(-1) and a K(m) of 8 mM PNPP at 30 degrees C. The emulsifying activity of mutants lacking either wzb or wzc was 16 and 15% of RAG-1 activity, respectively, suggesting a role for the two enzymes in emulsan production. Phosphorylation of Wzc was found to occur within a cluster of five tyrosine residues at the C terminus. Colonies from a mutant in which these five tyrosine residues were replaced by five phenylalanine residues along with those of a second mutant, which also lacked Wzb, exhibited a highly viscous colony consistency. Emulsan activity of these mutants was 25 and 24% of that of RAG-1, respectively. Neither of these mutants contained cell-associated emulsan. However, they did produce an extracellular high-molecular-mass galactosamine-containing polysaccharide. A model is proposed in which subunit polymerization, translocation and release of emulsan are all associated and coregulated by tyrosine phosphorylation.

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