Ocean Science and Engineering Presents Dr. Vinayak Agarwal, GA Tech, Schools of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Biological Sciences
Genetic and biochemical reconstruction of ozone-depleting bromoform production by marine macroalgae
Bromoform is an ozone-depleting volatile small molecule that is naturally produced in the oceans in large amounts. Just like man-made halocarbon pollutants, photolysis of bromoform produces halogen species that react with and degrade atmospheric ozone. Despite the adverse environmental effect of this naturally produced pollutant, molecular routes for bromoform production remain unknown.
Here, using an exceptionally prolific bromoform producing seaweed as a model system, we discover and characterize the genetic and molecular bases for bromoform production in marine algae. Bromoform biosynthesis uses an enzymatic version of the classical haloform reaction. Sequencing marine macroalgal genomes identifies that genes for bromoform synthesis are closely co-localized with a gene for reactive oxygen species production, providing a mechanistic link suggesting that algae produce bromoform in response to pathogen stress.
We additionally find the enzymatic routes to produce bromoform to be broadly conserved in other marine seaweeds that dominate the oceanic coastlines. Our results connect basic biosynthetic enzymology to a molecule that has profound effect on environmental health and provide the foundation to broadly detect the genetic potential for bromoform production in the marine environment.
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