- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
The history of discovery by Rosetta Reusch of oligo- and poly-beta-hydroxybutyrates (OHBs and PHBs) consisting of less than ca. 150 HB units is described. These 'short-chain' biopolymers can be detected in all living organisms and have numerous physiological activities of fundamental importance for the chemistry of life. The largest are components of ion channels such as Ca2+-polyphosphate-PHB (Ca-PPi-PHB) in genetically competent E. coli and in mammalian mitochondria. Sequences with chain lengths < ca. 30 occur covalently attached to proteins (post-translational PHBylation), and methyl esters of the dimer and trimer are used by certain bacteria as highly efficient antioxidants. With synthetic monodisperse OHBs (up to 128mer) our group has contributed structural investigations, and we have shown that OHBs >= 16 alone make phospholipid bilayer vesicles permeable to Ca ions. An extensive biochemical analysis of the TRPM8 protein channel, responsible for the sense of heat in our skin, proved to be fully active only when PHBylated. Reasons for the difficulty of detecting OHBs and PHBs are discussed: the polyester chain is highly flexible, and there is ester cleavage by base, acid, nucleophiles, Lewis acids, and heat - in stark contrast to peptides. PHBs may be called a ubiquitous but fleeting species in the chemistry of life - worth being appreciated and studied much more intensively in the future! A speculation about PHB's possible role in prebiotic compartmentalization is presented, and recent uses of compartmentalization in organic synthesis are briefly mentioned. Portions of the figures used herein were presented in a lecture at the International Symposium on Biopolymers on September 13, 2022, in Sion (Switzerland). Show more
Journal / seriesHelvetica Chimica Acta
Pages / Article No.
Subjectcompartmentalization; history of science; ion channels; non-proteinaceous ion channels; organic synthesis in water; PHBylated proteins; poly-β-hydroxybutyrates; polyphosphates; prebiotic chemistry; TRPM8 channel
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