Synchronous cultures of Mycobacterium aurum were used to prove a close relationship between cellular division and active synthesis of mycolic acids (characteristic long-chain 3-hydroxyacids, branched at position 2), confirming previous proposals.
Mycolic acid biosynthesis was studied in two species (Mycobacterium phlei and M. aurum) each producing three types of mycolic acids: di-unsatured mycolates, oxomycolates and wax-ester mycolates (ester of dicarboxymycolic acid and 2-icosanol or 2-octadecanol). It was shown that unsaturated mycolates and oxomycolic acids were not directly related, whereas a metabolic filiation was confirmed between oxomycolate and wax ester mycolate: the latter derived, whereas a metabolic filiation was confirmed between oxomycolate and wax ester mycolate: the latter derived from the former by a Baeyer-Villiger oxidation step, as has been proposed on the basis of structural considerations.
By observing the labelling of the different mycolate pools in the cell, i.e. the organic-solvent-extractable fraction (essentially containing esters of trehalose and of glycerol) and the cell residue (assumed to be the cell-wall polymers), it was clear that oxomycolates and unsaturated mycolates appeared first in the extractable lipids, then in the wall-linked mycolates while wax-ester mycolates appeared first as wall-linked derivatives. Thus, it is proposed that mycolates could follow separate routes involving differently located enzymes to reach their complex forms either in extractable lipids or in the wall-linked arabino-galactan.