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Lipids. 2012 Mar;47(3):227-37. doi: 10.1007/s11745-011-3617-2. Epub 2011 Oct 19.

The front-end desaturase: structure, function, evolution and biotechnological use.

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Department of Food and Bioproduct Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, 51 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, SK, S7N5A8, Canada.


Very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as arachidonic acid (ARA, 20:4n-6), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, 22:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) are essential components of cell membranes, and are precursors for a group of hormone-like bioactive compounds (eicosanoids and docosanoids) involved in regulation of various physiological activities in animals and humans. The biosynthesis of these fatty acids involves an alternating process of fatty acid desaturation and elongation. The desaturation is catalyzed by a unique class of oxygenases called front-end desaturases that introduce double bonds between the pre-existing double bond and the carboxyl end of polyunsaturated fatty acids. The first gene encoding a front-end desaturase was cloned in 1993 from cyanobacteria. Since then, front-end desaturases have been identified and characterized from a wide range of eukaryotic species including algae, protozoa, fungi, plants and animals including humans. Unlike front-end desaturases from bacteria, those from eukaryotes are structurally characterized by the presence of an N-terminal cytochrome b₅-like domain fused to the main desaturation domain. Understanding the structure, function and evolution of front-end desaturases, as well as their roles in the biosynthesis of very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids offers the opportunity to engineer production of these fatty acids in transgenic oilseed plants for nutraceutical markets.

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