Thermotoga maritima is a marine hyperthermophilic microorganism that degrades a wide range of simple and complex carbohydrates including pectin and produces fermentative hydrogen at high yield. Galacturonate and glucuronate, two abundant hexuronic acids in pectin and xylan, respectively, are catabolized via committed metabolic pathways to supply carbon and energy for a variety of microorganisms. By a combination of bioinformatics and experimental techniques we identified a novel enzyme family (named UxaE) catalysing a previously unknown reaction in the hexuronic acid catabolic pathway, epimerization of tagaturonate to fructuronate. The enzymatic activity of the purified recombinant tagaturonate epimerase from T. maritima was directly confirmed and kinetically characterized. Its function was also confirmed by genetic complementation of the growth of the Escherichia coli uxaB knockout mutant strain on galacturonate. An inferred novel galacturonate to mannonate catabolic pathway in T. maritima was reconstituted in vitro using a mixture of recombinant purified enzymes UxaE, UxaC and UxuB. Members of the newly identified UxaE family were identified in ∼ 50 phylogenetically diverse heterotrophic bacteria from aquatic and soil environments. The genomic context of respective genes and reconstruction of associated pathways suggest that UxaE enzymatic and biological function remains conserved in all of these species.
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