A series of genetic, biochemical, and physiological studies in Escherichia coli have elucidated the unusual pathway whereby lipoic acid is synthesized. Here we describe the results of these investigations as well as the functions of enzyme proteins that are modified by covalent attachment of lipoic acid and the enzymes that catalyze the modification reactions. Some aspects of the synthesis and attachment mechanisms have strong parallels in the pathways used in synthesis and attachment of biotin and these are compared and contrasted. Homologues of the lipoic acid metabolism proteins are found in all branches of life, save the Archea, and thus these findings seem to have wide biological relevance.
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