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Chem Biol. 1996 Oct;3(10):827-31.

A functional chimeric modular polyketide synthase generated via domain replacement.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5025, USA.



Modular polyketide synthases (PKSs), such as 6-deoxyerythronolide B synthase (DEBS), are large multifunctional enzymes that catalyze the biosynthesis of structurally complex and medically important natural products. Active sites within these assemblies are organized into 'modules', such that each module catalyzes the stereospecific addition of a new monomer onto a growing polyketide chain and also sets the reduction level of the beta-carbon atom of the resulting intermediate. The core of each module is made up of a 'reductive segment', which includes all, some, or none of a set of ketoreductase (KR), dehydratase, and enoylreductase domains, in addition to a large interdomain region which lacks overt function but may contribute to structural stability and inter-domain dynamics within modules. The highly conserved organization of reductive segments within modules suggests that they might be able to function in unnatural contexts to generate novel organic molecules.


To investigate domain substitution as a method for altering PKS function, a chimeric enzyme was engineered. Using a bimodular derivative of DEBS (DEBS1+TE), the reductive segment of module 2, which includes a functional KR, was replaced with its homolog from module 3 of DEBS, which contains a (naturally occurring) nonfunctional KR. A recombinant strain expressing the chimeric gene produced the predicted ketolactone with a yield (35 %) comparable to that of a control strain in which the KR2 domain was retained but mutationally inactivated.


These results demonstrate considerable structural tolerance within an important segment found in virtually every PKS module. The domain boundaries defined here could be exploited for the construction of numerous loss-of-function and possibly even gain-of-function mutants within this remarkable family of multifunctional enzymes.

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