Intensive research on the physiology, biochemistry, and molecular genetics of the metabolism of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) during the last 15 years has revealed a dramatic increase of our knowledge on the biosynthesis of these polyesters in bacteria. This mainly very basic research has revealed several new, hitherto not described enzymes and pathways. In addition, many genes encoding the enzymes of these pathways and in particular the key enzyme of PHA biosynthesis, PHA synthase, were cloned and characterized at a molecular level. This knowledge was utilized to establish PHA biosynthesis in many prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms, which were unable to synthesize PHAs, and to apply the methodology of metabolic engineering, thus opening new perspectives for the production of various PHAs by fermentation biotechnology or agriculture in economically feasible processes. This contribution summarizes the properties of PHA synthases and gives an overview on the genes for these enzymes and other enzymes of PHA biosynthesis that have been cloned and are available. It also summarizes our current knowledge on the regulation at the enzyme and gene level of PHA biosynthesis in bacteria.
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