Thioester synthesis by a designed nickel enzyme models prebiotic energy conversion

Anastasia C. Manesis, Alina Yerbulekova, Jason Shearer, Hannah S. Shafaat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The formation of carbon-carbon bonds from prebiotic precursors such as carbon dioxide represents the foundation of all primordial life processes. In extant organisms, this reaction is carried out by the carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH)/acetyl coenzyme A synthase (ACS) enzyme, which performs the cornerstone reaction in the ancient Wood-Ljungdahl metabolic pathway to synthesize the key biological metabolite, acetylCoA. Despite its significance, a fundamental understanding of this transformation is lacking, hampering efforts to harness analogous chemistry. To address these knowledge gaps, we have designed an artificial metalloenzyme within the azurin protein scaffold as a structural, functional, and mechanistic model of ACS. We demonstrate the intermediacy of the NiI species and requirement for ordered substrate binding in the bioorganometallic carbon-carbon bond-forming reaction from the one-carbon ACS substrates. The electronic and geometric structures of the nickel-acetyl intermediate have been characterized using time-resolved optical, electron paramagnetic resonance, and X-ray absorption spectroscopy in conjunction with quantum chemical calculations. Moreover, we demonstrate that the nickel-acetyl species is chemically competent for selective acyl transfer upon thiol addition to biosynthesize an activated thioester. Drawing an analogy to the native enzyme, a mechanism for thioester generation by this ACS model has been proposed. The fundamental insight into the enzymatic process provided by this rudimentary ACS model has implications for the evolution of primitive ACS-like proteins. Ultimately, these findings offer strategies for development of highly active catalysts for sustainable generation of liquid fuels from one-carbon substrates, with potential for broad applications across diverse fields ranging from energy storage to environmental remediation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2123022119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 26 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • acetyl coenzyme A synthase
  • activated thioester
  • Bioorganometallic
  • carbon-carbon coupling
  • metalloprotein design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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