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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2009 Jun;83(3):491-500. doi: 10.1007/s00253-009-1895-x. Epub 2009 Feb 4.

A novel family VIII carboxylesterase derived from a leachate metagenome library exhibits promiscuous beta-lactamase activity on nitrocefin.

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Enzyme Technologies, CSIR Biosciences, Private Bag X2, Modderfontein, Johannesburg 1645, South Africa.


The realization that majority of microbes are not amenable to cultivation as isolates under laboratory conditions has led to the culture-independent metagenomic approach as a novel technique for novel biocatalyst discovery. A leachate fosmid shotgun metagenome library was constructed and subsequently screened for esterolytic activities on a tributyrin agar medium. Nucleotide sequencing and translational analysis of an esterase-positive fosmid clone led to the identification of a 1,281 bp esterase gene (estC) encoding a protein (EstC) of 427 aa with translated molecular weight of 46.3 kDa. The EstC primary structure contained a signal leader peptide (29 aa), which could be cleaved to form a mature protein of 398 aa with molecular weight 43.3 kDa. Homology searches revealed that EstC belonged to the family VIII esterases, which exploit a serine residue within the S-x-x-K motif as a catalytic nucleophile. Substrate specificity studies showed that EstC prefers short to medium acyl chain length of p-nitrophenyl esters, a characteristic typical of "true" carboxylesterases. Moreover, EstC represents the first member of the family VIII esterases with a leader peptide and a detectable promiscuous beta-lactam hydrolytic activity. Site-directed mutagenesis studies also revealed that in addition to Ser103 and Lys106 residues, the Tyr219 residue also plays a catalytic role in EstC. The organic solvent stability and the specificity towards esters of tertiary alcohols linalyl acetate (3,7-dimethyl-1,6-octadien-3-yl acetate) make EstC potentially useful in biocatalysis.

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