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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 1997 Sep;48(3):281-8.

Bacterial alginates: biosynthesis and applications.

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Institut für Mikrobiologie der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany.


Alginate is a copolymer of beta-D-mannuronic acid and alpha-L-guluronic acid (GulA), linked together by 1-4 linkages. The polymer is a well-established industrial product obtained commercially by harvesting brown seaweeds. Some bacteria, mostly derived from the genus Pseudomonas and belonging to the RNA superfamily I, are also capable of producing copious amounts of this polymer as an exopolysaccharide. The molecular genetics, regulation and biochemistry of alginate biosynthesis have been particularly well characterized in the opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, although the biochemistry of the polymerization process is still poorly understood. In the last 3 years major aspects of the molecular genetics of alginate biosynthesis in Azotobacter vinelandii have also been reported. In both organisms the immediate precursor of polymerization is GDP-mannuronic acid, and the sugar residues in this compound are polymerized into mannuronan. This uniform polymer is then further modified by acetylation at positions O-2 and/or O-3 and by epimerization of some of the residues, leading to a variable content of acetyl groups and GulA residues. In contrast, seaweed alginates are not acetylated. The nature of the epimerization steps are more complex in A. vinelandii than in P. aeruginosa, while other aspects of the biochemistry and genetics of alginate biosynthesis appear to be similar. The GulA residue content and distribution strongly affect the physicochemical properties of alginates, and the epimerization process is therefore of great interest from an applied point of view. This article presents a survey of our current knowledge of the molecular genetics and biochemistry of bacterial alginate biosynthesis, as well as of the biotechnological potential of such polymers.

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