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Converting hazardous phenols into luciferin

By Paul Grad |

Phenolic compounds, such as chloro- and nitrophenols, are potentially hazardous when found in soils and the workplace. Normally, such compounds are detected with techniques such as mass spectrometry. There are several mechanisms for degrading and detoxifying contaminants: bacteria use specialized enzymes to dehalogenate phenols and convert them to oxidized compounds called benzoquinones, which can be metabolized by organisms. Enzymes such as dehalogenases or mono-oxygenases have been used in industry for biological detoxification. Now, researchers from Thailand have gone further than just detoxification, and coupled the enzymatic process with a method to convert the benzoquinone into luciferin — the substance that causes the glowing of fireflies. The researchers, from the Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology (Rayong, Thailand; www.vistec.ac.th), led by professor Pimchai Chaiyen, say the chemoenzymatic cascade entails conversion of the product from the first enzymatic conversion step, benzoquinone, into luciferin in a second step, but within the same reaction vessel. To achieve conversion of benzoquinone to luciferin, the researchers add the natural compound cysteine to the reaction mixture. They then include a third…
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