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Nature. 2015 Feb 19;518(7539):431-4. doi: 10.1038/nature14160. Epub 2015 Jan 21.

Structure of the key species in the enzymatic oxidation of methane to methanol.

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1] Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology &Biophysics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA [2] Center for Metals in Biocatalysis, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.
Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA.


Methane monooxygenase (MMO) catalyses the O2-dependent conversion of methane to methanol in methanotrophic bacteria, thereby preventing the atmospheric egress of approximately one billion tons of this potent greenhouse gas annually. The key reaction cycle intermediate of the soluble form of MMO (sMMO) is termed compound Q (Q). Q contains a unique dinuclear Fe(IV) cluster that reacts with methane to break an exceptionally strong 105 kcal mol(-1) C-H bond and insert one oxygen atom. No other biological oxidant, except that found in the particulate form of MMO, is capable of such catalysis. The structure of Q remains controversial despite numerous spectroscopic, computational and synthetic model studies. A definitive structural assignment can be made from resonance Raman vibrational spectroscopy but, despite efforts over the past two decades, no vibrational spectrum of Q has yet been obtained. Here we report the core structures of Q and the following product complex, compound T, using time-resolved resonance Raman spectroscopy (TR(3)). TR(3) permits fingerprinting of intermediates by their unique vibrational signatures through extended signal averaging for short-lived species. We report unambiguous evidence that Q possesses a bis-μ-oxo diamond core structure and show that both bridging oxygens originate from O2. This observation strongly supports a homolytic mechanism for O-O bond cleavage. We also show that T retains a single oxygen atom from O2 as a bridging ligand, while the other oxygen atom is incorporated into the product. Capture of the extreme oxidizing potential of Q is of great contemporary interest for bioremediation and the development of synthetic approaches to methane-based alternative fuels and chemical industry feedstocks. Insight into the formation and reactivity of Q from the structure reported here is an important step towards harnessing this potential.

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