Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), both located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, collaborated on a University of British Columbia-led study that identified a bacterial enzyme that produces a novel biopolymer. Described in a recent ACS Central Science article, the polymer, dubbed acholetin, is a chain of sugar molecules known as a polysaccharide. Acholetin is similar in structure to chitin, the major component of insect exoskeletons, and holds promise as a useful biomaterial because of its biodegradability and biocompatibility.
In work facilitated by the JGI team members, the enzyme was discovered by combing through the genome of a common laboratory contaminant, a bacterium called Acholeplasma laidlawii. The structure of the acholetin-producing enzyme was visualized by JBEI research scientist Jose H. Pereira via X-ray crystallography in the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology at the Advanced Light Source (ALS). Armed with a deep understanding of how the enzyme makes acholetin, scientists now have a target for preventing bacterial contamination and the means to produce acholetin for a variety of purposes.