Renewable production of hydrocarbons is being pursued as a petroleum-independent source of commodity chemicals and replacement for biofuels. The bacterial biosynthesis of long-chain olefins represents one such platform. The process is initiated by OleA catalyzing the condensation of two fatty acyl-coenzyme A substrates to form a β-keto acid. Here, the mechanistic role of the conserved His285 is investigated through mutagenesis, activity assays, and X-ray crystallography. Our data demonstrate that His285 is required for product formation, influences the thiolase nucleophile Cys143 and the acyl-enzyme intermediate before and after transesterification, and orchestrates substrate coordination as a defining component of an oxyanion hole. As a consequence, His285 plays a key role in enabling a mechanistic strategy in OleA that is distinct from other thiolases.
- X-ray crystallography