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Summary

Laccases are oxidases that contain several copper atoms, and catalyse single-electron oxidations of phenolic compounds with concomitant reduction of oxygen to water. The enzymes are particularly widespread in ligninolytic basidiomycetes, but also occur in certain prokaryotes, insects and plants. Depending on the species, laccases are involved in various biosynthetic processes contributing to carbon recycling in land ecosystems and the morphogenesis of biomatrices, wherein low-molecular-weight naturally occurring phenols serve as key enzyme substrates. Studies of these in vivo synthetic pathways have afforded new insights into fungal laccase applicability in green synthetic chemistry. Thus, we here review fungal laccase-catalysed oxidations of naturally occurring phenols that are particularly relevant to the synthesis of fine organic chemicals, and we discuss how the discovered synthetic strategies mimic laccase-involved in vivo pathways, thus enhancing the green nature of such reactions. Laccase-catalysed in vivo processes yield several types of biopolymers, including those of cuticles, lignin, polyflavonoids, humus and the melanin pigments, using natural mono- or poly-phenols as building blocks. The in vivo synthetic pathways involve either phenoxyl radical-mediated coupling or cross-linking reactions, and can be adapted to the design of in vitro oxidative processes involving fungal laccases in organic synthesis; the laccase substrates and the synthetic mechanisms reflect in vivo processes. Notably, such in vitro synthetic pathways can also reproduce physicochemical properties (e.g. those of chromophores, and radical-scavenging, hydration and antimicrobial activities) found in natural biomaterials. Careful study of laccase-associated in vivo metabolic pathways has been rewarded by the discovery of novel green applications for fungal laccases. This review comprehensively summarizes the available data on laccase-catalysed biosynthetic pathways and associated applications in fine chemical syntheses.