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Curr Opin Plant Biol. 2005 Jun;8(3):249-53.

Structure-function relationships in plant phenylpropanoid biosynthesis.

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Jack Skirball Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Plants, as sessile organisms, evolve and exploit metabolic systems to create a rich repertoire of complex natural products that hold adaptive significance for their survival in challenging ecological niches on earth. As an experimental tool set, structural biology provides a high-resolution means to uncover detailed information about the structure-function relationships of metabolic enzymes at the atomic level. Together with genomic and biochemical approaches and an appreciation of molecular evolution, structural enzymology holds great promise for addressing a number of questions relating to secondary or, more appropriately, specialized metabolism. Why is secondary metabolism so adaptable? How are reactivity, regio-chemistry and stereo-chemistry steered during the multi-step conversion of substrates into products? What are the vestigial structural and mechanistic traits that remain in biosynthetic enzymes during the diversification of substrate and product selectivity? What does the catalytic landscape look like as an enzyme family traverses all possible lineages en route to the acquisition of new substrate and/or product specificities? And how can one rationally engineer biosynthesis using the unique perspectives of evolution and structural biology to create novel chemicals for human use?

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