PerspectiveMicrobiology

Breathing the unbreathable

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  24 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6208, pp. 424-425
DOI: 10.1126/science.1261194

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Summary

Organohalides are highly versatile chemicals containing at least one carbon atom bound to a halogen atom such as chlorine, bromine, fluorine, or iodine. They include the dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethene (PCE), the industrial degreaser trichloroethene (TCE), ozone-depleting refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and anti-stick compounds like Teflon. Organohalides are also produced by volcanic emissions and lightning strikes; plants, animals, and microbes produce them as hormones, as signaling molecules, and for self-defense (1). Certain microbes can break down organohalide pollutants. On page 455 of this issue, Bommer et al. (2) report the crystal structure of an enzyme from the bacterium Sulfurospirillum multivorans that catalyzes the cleavage of the carbon-halogen bond in PCE and TCE. This structure opens the door to a full mechanistic and predictive understanding of this important detoxifying reaction.