The biosynthesis of methanobactin

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Science  23 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6382, pp. 1411-1416
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9437

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Using iron to generate a copper ligand

Many microbial enzymes are metal-dependent, and the microbe must acquire scarce metals from the environment. Microbes that use methane as a carbon source have a copper-dependent enzyme that oxidizes the methane. Peptides known as methanobactins (Mbns) acquire copper by using a pair of ligands comprising a nitrogen-containing ring and an adjacent thioamide. Kenney et al. describe the biosynthetic machinery that adds the copper-binding groups to a precursor peptide. This involves a complex of two homologs: MbnB, a member of a functionally uncharacterized protein family that includes a diiron cluster, and MbnC, which is even less well characterized. The iron cofactor is required for ligand synthesis. MbnB and MbnC homologs are encoded in many genomes, suggesting that they may have roles beyond Mbn biosynthesis.

Science, this issue p. 1411


Metal homeostasis poses a major challenge to microbes, which must acquire scarce elements for core metabolic processes. Methanobactin, an extensively modified copper-chelating peptide, was one of the earliest natural products shown to enable microbial acquisition of a metal other than iron. We describe the core biosynthetic machinery responsible for the characteristic posttranslational modifications that grant methanobactin its specificity and affinity for copper. A heterodimer comprising MbnB, a DUF692 family iron enzyme, and MbnC, a protein from a previously unknown family, performs a dioxygen-dependent four-electron oxidation of the precursor peptide (MbnA) to install an oxazolone and an adjacent thioamide, the characteristic methanobactin bidentate copper ligands. MbnB and MbnC homologs are encoded together and separately in many bacterial genomes, suggesting functions beyond their roles in methanobactin biosynthesis.

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