Methanotrophic bacteria utilize methane as their sole carbon and energy source. The first step in their metabolic pathway is the oxidation of methane to methanol by methane monooxygenase (MMO) enzyme systems. All but one genus of methanotrophs produce a membrane-bound, copper-containing enzyme called particulate methane monooxygenase (pMMO). Although pMMO is the predominant methane oxidation catalyst in nature, it has proved difficult to isolate, and most investigators have instead opted to study soluble methane monooxygenase (sMMO), a diiron carboxylate-bridged enzyme that is more tractable, but less universal, than pMMO. The structure and mechanism of pMMO and the homologous enzyme ammonia monooxygenase (AMO) remain one of the major unsolved problems in bioinorganic chemistry. Understanding how pMMO activates O2 for oxidation of methane and other hydrocarbons is the long term goal of this research program. Despite the availability of a crystal structure and extensive spectroscopic data, key questions regarding the metal content and active site identity remain unanswered. These issues are of fundamental importance to bioinorganic copper chemistry and have implications for the use of methanotrophs in bioremediation. In addition, methanotrophs play a key role in the global carbon cycle and could help mitigate the deleterious effects of global warming on human health. The proposed research involves purification and characterization of pMMO and AMO from multiple organisms. State-of-the-art crystallization techniques for membrane proteins will be applied to these enzymes. In addition, expression systems will be developed to enable site-directed mutagenesis experiments. Finally, in vitro enzyme activity will be optimized and mechanistic studies initiated.
Bacteria that consume methane gas play an important role in mitigating global warming, which has deleterious effects on human health. These bacteria also are useful for bioremediation of soil and water polluted with hydrocarbon carcinogens. This project will investigate the details of how these bacteria transform methane into methanol.
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