6-Deoxyerythronolide B synthase (DEBS) is a large multifunctional enzyme that catalyses the biosynthesis of the erythromycin polyketide aglycone. DEBS is organized into six modules, each containing the enzymic domains required for a single condensation of carboxylic acid residues which make up the growing polyketide chain. Module 1 is preceded by loading acyltransferase (AT-L) and acyl carrier protein (ACP-L) domains, hypothesized to initiate polyketide chain growth with a propionate-derived moiety. Using recombinant DNA technology several mutant strains of were constructed that lack the initial AT-L domain or that lack both the AT-L and ACP-L domains. These strains were still able to produce erythromycin, although at much lower levels than that produced by the wild-type strain. In addition, the AT-L domain expressed as a monofunctional enzyme was able to complement the deletion of this domain from the PKS, resulting in increased levels of erythromycin production. These findings indicate that neither the initial AT-L nor the ACP-L domains are required to initiate erythromycin biosynthesis; however, without these domains the efficiency of erythromycin biosynthesis is decreased significantly. It is proposed that in these mutants the first step in erythromycin biosynthesis is the charging of KS1 with propionate directly from propionyl-CoA.


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