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Int Microbiol. 2003 Mar;6(1):11-6. Epub 2003 Feb 12.

Genetic basis of microbial carotenogenesis.

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Departamento de MicrobiologĂ­a y ParasitologĂ­a, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, 15782, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.


The synthesis of carotenoids begins with the formation of a phytoene from geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate, a well conserved step in all carotenogenic organisms and catalyzed by a phytoene synthase, an enzyme encoded by the crtB ( spy) genes. The next step is the dehydrogenation of the phytoene, which is carried out by phytoene dehydrogenase. In organisms with oxygenic photosynthesis, this enzyme, which accomplishes two dehydrogenations, is encoded by the crtP genes. In organisms that lack oxygenic photosynthesis, dehydrogenation is carried out by an enzyme completely unrelated to the former one, which carries out four dehydrogenations and is encoded by the crtI genes. In organisms with oxygenic photosynthesis, dehydrogenation of the phytoene is accomplished by a zeta-carotene dehydrogenase encoded by the crtQ ( zds) genes. In many carotenogenic organisms, the process is completed with the cyclization of lycopene. In organisms exhibiting oxygenic photosynthesis, this step is performed by a lycopene cyclase encoded by the crtL genes. In contrast, anoxygenic photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic organisms use a different lycopene cyclase, encoded by the crtY ( lyc) genes. A third and unrelated type of lycopene beta-cyclase has been described in certain bacteria and archaea. Fungi differ from the rest of non-photosynthetic organisms in that they have a bifunctional enzyme that displays both phytoene synthase and lycopene cyclase activity. Carotenoids can be modified by oxygen-containing functional groups, thus originating xanthophylls. Only two enzymes are necessary for the conversion of beta-carotene into astaxanthin, using several ketocarotenoids as intermediates, in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. These enzymes are a beta-carotene hydroxylase ( crtZ genes) and a beta-carotene ketolase, encoded by the crtW (bacteria) or bkt (algae) genes.

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