Rhodococcus is a genus of mycolic-acid-containing actinomycetes that utilize a remarkable variety of organic compounds as growth substrates. This degradation helps maintain the global carbon cycle and has increasing applications ranging from the biodegradation of pollutants to the biocatalytic production of drugs and hormones. We have been using Rhodococcus jostii RHA1 as a model organism to understand the catabolic versatility of Rhodococcus and related bacteria. Our approach is exemplified by the discovery of a cluster of genes specifying the catabolism of cholesterol. This degradation proceeds via β-oxidative degradation of the side chain and O2-dependent cleavage of steroid ring A in a process similar to bacterial degradation of aromatic compounds. The pathway is widespread in Actinobacteria and is critical to the pathogenesis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, arguably the world's most successful pathogen. The close similarity of some of these enzymes with biphenyl- and polychlorinated-biphenyl-degrading enzymes that we have characterized is facilitating inhibitor design. Our studies in RHA1 have also provided important insights into a number of novel metalloenzymes and their biosynthesis, such as acetonitrile hydratase (ANHase), a cobalt-containing enzyme with no significant sequence identity with characterized nitrile hydratases. Molecular genetic and biochemical studies have identified AnhE as a dimeric metallochaperone that delivers cobalt to ANHase, enabling its maturation in vivo. Other metalloenzymes we are characterizing include N-acetylmuramic acid hydroxylase, which catalyzes an unusual hydroxylation of the rhodococcal and mycobacterial peptidoglycan, and 2 RHA1 dye-decolorizing peroxidases. Using molecular genetic and biochemical approaches, we have demonstrated that one of these enzymes is involved in the degradation of lignin. Overall, our studies are providing fundamental insights into a range of catabolic processes that have a wide variety of applications.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Molecular Biology