Aromatic hydroxylations are important bacterial metabolic processes but are difficult to perform using traditional chemical synthesis, so to use a biological catalyst to convert the priority pollutant benzene into industrially relevant intermediates, benzene oxidation was investigated. It was discovered that toluene 4-monooxygenase (T4MO) of Pseudomonas mendocina KR1, toluene 3-monooxygenase (T3MO) of Ralstonia pickettii PKO1, and toluene ortho-monooxygenase (TOM) of Burkholderia cepacia G4 convert benzene to phenol, catechol, and 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene by successive hydroxylations. At a concentration of 165 microM and under the control of a constitutive lac promoter, Escherichia coli TG1/pBS(Kan)T4MO expressing T4MO formed phenol from benzene at 19 +/- 1.6 nmol/min/mg of protein, catechol from phenol at 13.6 +/- 0.3 nmol/min/mg of protein, and 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene from catechol at 2.5 +/- 0.5nmol/min/mg of protein. The catechol and 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene products were identified by both high-pressure liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. When analogous plasmid constructs were used, E. coli TG1/pBS(Kan)T3MO expressing T3MO formed phenol, catechol, and 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene at rates of 3 +/- 1, 3.1 +/- 0.3, and 0.26 +/- 0.09 nmol/min/mg of protein, respectively, and E. coli TG1/pBS(Kan)TOM expressing TOM formed 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene at a rate of 1.7 +/- 0.3 nmol/min/mg of protein (phenol and catechol formation rates were 0.89 +/- 0.07 and 1.5 +/- 0.3 nmol/min/mg of protein, respectively). Hence, the rates of synthesis of catechol by both T3MO and T4MO and the 1,2,3-trihydroxybenzene formation rate by TOM were found to be comparable to the rates of oxidation of the natural substrate toluene for these enzymes (10.0 +/- 0.8, 4.0 +/- 0.6, and 2.4 +/- 0.3 nmol/min/mg of protein for T4MO, T3MO, and TOM, respectively, at a toluene concentration of 165 microM).
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