Enzyme from briny deep resurrected in the lab

The ADH/D1 dimer with the secondary structure highlighted in different colors for each monomer.
Reproduced with permission from reference 1© 2017 American Chemical Society

Mysterious microbes that thrive in hot and super-salty brine lakes at the bottom of the Red Sea could yield a treasure trove of new enzymes for industrial applications—if only scientists had access to their biological bounty.

A new study led by KAUST scientists now spells out a way to exploit this vast untapped resource.

Current methods rely on growing microbes in the lab to study their characteristics. However, most microbes cannot be cultured and thus evade scientific scrutiny. Instead, researchers from KAUST and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany resurrected and tested specific proteins from so-called single-amplified genomes (SAGs)—whole genomes extracted from a single captured microbial cell.

“This is the first time that SAGs have been used to produce proteins,” says first author, Stefan Grötzinger, a doctoral student working at both KAUST and TUM. “The proof that proteins of desired functions can be obtained from SAGs could change the way we search for new enzymes.”

Grötzinger and his colleagues—led by KAUST structural biologist Stefan Arold with Jörg Eppinger, a chemist formerly at KAUST, and TUM scientists Dirk Weuster-Botz and Michael Groll—started with a microbial cell plumbed from a brine pool located 80km off the coast of Jeddah and 2,000m below the Red Sea surface. From its SAG, they computationally identified a gene encoding one of the microbe’s alcohol dehydrogenases (ADHs), an enzyme commonly used in food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

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