A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, and collaborators, have identified the genes and enzymes that create a promising compound — the 19-carbon furan-containing fatty acid (19Fu-FA). The compound has a variety of potential uses as a biological alternative for compounds currently derived from fossil fuels. Researchers from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), which is headquartered at UW-Madison and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, discovered the cellular genomes that direct 19Fu-FA's synthesis and published the new findings online on August 4, 2014 in the journal PNAS. "We've identified previously uncharacterized genes in a bacterium that are also present in the genomes of many other bacteria," says Dr. Tim Donohue, GLBRC director and UW-Madison bacteriology professor. "So, we are now in the exciting position to mine these other bacterial genomes to produce large quantities of fatty acids for further testing and eventual use in many industries, including the chemical and fuel industries." The novel 19Fu-FAs were initially discovered as "unknown" products that accumulated in mutant strains of Rhodobacter sphaeroides (see image), an organism being studied by the GLBRC because of its ability to overproduce hydrophobic, or water-insoluble, compounds. These types of compounds have value to the chemical and fuel industries as biological replacements for plasticizers, solvents, lubricants, or fuel additives that are currently derived from fossil fuels. The team also provides additional evidence that these fatty acids are able to scavenge toxic reactive oxygen species, showing that they could be potent antioxidants in both the chemical industry and cells. Cellular genomes are the genetic blueprints that define a cell's features or characteristics with DNA.
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