Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are polyoxoesters produced by a wide range of bacteria under nutrient-limited growth conditions except for carbon. Due to their excellent biocompatibility, biodegradability, and versatility, PHAs have been developed for various biomedical applications in medical devices, drug delivery, and tissue engineering. The FDA approved the first medical use of PHAs in 2009 as an absorbable suture under the trade name TephaFLEX. However, the high cost of PHA production has been an impediment to their further development and downstream commercialization. Our goal is to identify and understand the complete PHA biosynthetic machinery so that PHAs with defined properties can be produced economically. To facilitate this, the present proposal will focus on the PHA synthase (PhaC) and phasin protein (PhaP), which are key to both PHA production and the properties of the material produced.
The specific aims are: (1) to characterize the mechanism of PhaC in PHA production and control of molecular weight (MW). We will investigate chain elongation of class I synthases that are much more challenging than the class III enzymes using multiple approaches involving enzymology, molecular biology, and synthetic chemistry. Efforts will also be made to look for the additional factors that are proposed to participate in the control of PHA MWs using genetically modified organisms. Protein-protein interactions will be identified through pull-down assays for strong interactions and by incorporating photoactive unnatural amino acids for weak interactions. The MW control by PhaC itself will also be studied in vitro through a synthetic analog or in vivo through identifying the residues involved in the chain termination/re-initiation processes; (2) to obtain structural information on PHA synthases through X-ray crystallography. In collaboration with Dr. Geisbrecht who is an accomplished crystallographer on the same campus, synthases from different bacterial sources will be purified and screened for crystallization in the absence and presence of ligands. Our preliminary results of co-crystallization with a nonhydrolyzable CoA analog have provided a clear path toward an initial PhaC structure. The availability of this X-ray structure will provide us with valuable insight on substrate recognition and enzyme mechanism as well as enabling our long- term goal of protein engineering; (3) to characterize roles of PhaP in PHA production and granule formation. The relationship of PhaC and PhaP will be characterized in vitro and in vivo using various binding assays and with Escherichia coli supplemented with a PHA biosynthetic pathway. Granule formation will be monitored in vivo for the first time through a combination of fluorescence microscopy and click-chemistry. Elucidating the roles and relationships of PhaC, PhaP, additional factors and granule (PHA) formation at the molecular level is of great importance to complete our understanding of PHA production. Ultimately, this will allow PHAs with defined properties to be economically produced for medical applications. Our results will also shed light on the widespread reactions of template-independent polymerizations where the mechanism remains enigmatic.

Public Health Relevance

PHAs are polyoxoesters synthesized by a wide range of bacteria under nutrient-limited growth conditions except for carbon. Their excellent biocompatibility, biodegradability, and versatility make them suitable for various biomedical applications such as medical devices, drug delivery, and tissue engineering. This proposal aims to identify and understand the complete PHA biosynthetic machinery at the molecular level such that PHAs with defined properties can be produced economically in order to accelerate their commercialization and further development of applications for human health.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Macromolecular Structure and Function A Study Section (MSFA)
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Gerratana, Barbara
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Kansas State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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