Hydrocarbons that compose crude oil are notably inert and contain no functional handles, making their decomposition a challenging task, especially when these hydrocarbons sink deep into soil or marshes where oxygen is limited. X-succinate synthases (XSS), a subclass of glycyl radical enzymes (GREs), provide a biological solution. They use anoxic GRE chemistry to attach unreactive hydrocarbons to fumarate for hydrocarbon degradation. The Drennan lab solved the first structure of an X-succinate synthase, benzylsuccinate synthase (BSS) and we are now pursuing additional structural information to understand substrate specificity. Ideally we would like to identify or design a series of X-succinate synthases that could act on a wide variety of hydrocarbons associated with oil spins.
MIT News October 19, 2015, CEHS News, and LinkedIn, “Using microbes to clean up oil spills,” by Francesca McCaffrey
Publications (*Corresponding authors)
Funk, M.A., Marsh, E.N.G., and Drennan*, C.L. (2015) Substrate-Bound Structures of Benzylsuccinate Synthase Reveal How Toluene is Activated in Anaerobic Hydrocarbon Degradation, J. Biol. Chem. 11, 22398-22408. PMCID: PMC4566215
Funk, M.A., Judd, E.T., Marsh, E.N.G., Elliott, S.J., and Drennan*, C.L. (2014) Structures of Benzylsuccinate Synthase Elucidate Roles of Accessory Subunits in Glycyl Radical Enzyme Activation and Activity, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 111, 10161-10166. PMCID: PMC4104874