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Eur J Biochem. 1999 Jan;259(1-2):396-403.

Two Arabidopsis thaliana carotene desaturases, phytoene desaturase and zeta-carotene desaturase, expressed in Escherichia coli, catalyze a poly-cis pathway to yield pro-lycopene.

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Du Pont Central Research, Wilmington, DE, USA.


We have expressed in Escerichia coli the enzymes geranylgeranyl diphosphate synthase and phytoene synthase, from the soil bacterium Erwinia stewartii, and the two carotene desaturases phytoene desaturase and carotene zeta-carotene desaturase from Arabidopsis thaliana. We show that pro-lycopene (7,9,7',9'-tetra-cis)-lycopene is the main end product of the plant desaturation pathway in these cells. In addition, light is required in this system. Whereas in the dark mainly zeta-carotene, the phytoene desaturase product, accumulates, illumination leads to activation of this intermediate caused by its photoisomerization. zeta-Carotene then meets the stereospecific requirements of zeta-carotene desaturase and pro-lycopene is formed. In contrast, a strain of E. coli carrying geranylgeranyl diphosphate synthase, phytoene desaturase and the bacterial carotene desaturase CrtI, which mediates lycopene formation from phytoene, does not require light, nor is a poly-cis-lycopene species formed. The stereoselectivity of the plant-type desaturation pathway expressed in E. coli is the same as previously shown with chromoplast membranes. As the phytoene desaturase and zeta-carotene desaturase used originate from a system not capable of developing chromoplasts, this indicates that the poly-cis pathway of carotene desaturation may have a wider occurrence than initially believed.

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