Extending the Carbon Chain: Hydrocarbon Formation Catalyzed by Vanadium/Molybdenum Nitrogenases

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Science  05 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6043, pp. 753-755
DOI: 10.1126/science.1206883

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In a small-scale reaction, vanadium-dependent nitrogenase has previously been shown to catalyze reductive catenation of carbon monoxide (CO) to ethylene, ethane, propylene, and propane. Here, we report the identification of additional hydrocarbon products [α-butylene, n-butane, and methane (CH4)] in a scaled-up reaction featuring 20 milligrams of vanadium-iron protein, the catalytic component of vanadium nitrogenase. Additionally, we show that the more common molybdenum-dependent nitrogenase can generate the same hydrocarbons from CO, although CH4 was not detected. The identification of CO as a substrate for both molybdenum- and vanadium-nitrogenases strengthens the hypothesis that CO reduction is an evolutionary relic of the function of the nitrogenase family. Moreover, the comparison between the CO-reducing capacities of the two nitrogenases suggests that the identity of heterometal at the active cofactor site affects the efficiency and product distribution of this reaction.

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