How nature builds the pigments of life: the conquest of vitamin B12

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Science  10 Jun 1994:
Vol. 264, Issue 5165, pp. 1551-1557
DOI: 10.1126/science.8202709

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In part because humans cannot synthesize vitamin B12 and must obtain it from organisms that produce it and because B12 deficiency leads to pernicious anemia, it has been important to understand how microorganisms build this quite complex substance. As shown here, an interdisciplinary attack was needed, which combined the strengths of genetics, molecular biology, enzymology, chemistry, and spectroscopy. This allowed the step-by-step synthetic pathway of B12 to be elucidated, and this approach has acted as a model for future research on the synthesis of substances in living organisms. One practical outcome of such an approach has been the improved availability of B12 for animal feedstuffs and human health.