Enzymes make light work of hydrocarbon production

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Science  01 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6354, pp. 872-873
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4399

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The acceleration of chemical reactions by visible light offers environmentally friendly routes to chemical synthesis that may be practical and scalable for use in industrial manufacture (1). Although widespread in chemistry, photocatalysis is rare in biology, and the harnessing of photochemistry in biologically based manufacture is challenging. On page 903 of this issue, Sorigué et al. (2) describe an algal photoenzyme that uses blue light to convert fatty acids into hydrocarbons. The photoenzyme uses a riboflavin (vitamin B2) cofactor to drive fatty acid decarboxylation via radical-based catalysis and shows promise as a light-dependent biocatalyst for hydrocarbon production. This and other recent discoveries suggest a hitherto hidden scope for biotechnologically useful photochemistry by means of cofactor-dependent enzymes.