A soil bacterium, designated AN103, was isolated based on its ability to grow on ferulic acid as a sole source of carbon and energy. In addition, this strain was found to metabolize a number of related phenolic substrates which contained a hydroxyl group at the position of the aromatic ring. During growth on ferulic acid, transient accumulation of vanillic acid and trace amounts of protocatechuic acid were detected in the culture medium. Washed cells grown on ferulic acid readily oxidized vanillin, vanillic acid and protocatechuic acid, the three putative intermediates of the metabolic pathway. The side-chain cleavage of ferulic acid to produce vanillin was demonstrated in vitro for the first time and this enzyme-catalysed reaction was shown to have an essential requirement for CoASH, ATP and MgCl. This conversion involved a two-step process involving a CoA ligase followed by the side-chain cleavage. The addition of NAD increased the oxidation of vanillin to vanillic acid and had an overall effect of increasing the rate of ferulic acid cleavage. The application of C-NMR studies revealed acetyl-CoA as the C side-chain cleavage product. High levels of inducible ferulate-CoA ligase and NAD-linked vanillin dehydrogenase were detected and a novel pathway for ferulic acid metabolism in this organism is proposed.


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