Welcome to the Department of Biochemistry, part of the University of Oxford's Medical Sciences Division. We are one of the largest Biochemistry departments in the world and carry out world-class research and teaching. Our researchers come from a range of disciplines and work in a collaborative environment on all aspects of modern molecular and cellular biochemistry. We hope you enjoy reading more about our activities on these pages.
Professor Mark Sansom, Head of Department
Enzyme from ocean bacteria reveals a unique catalytic cofactor
A serendipitous finding by Oxford researchers has identified novel features of an ecologically important enzyme.
The alkaline phosphatase PhoX is important for bacterial phosphate acquisition in low phosphate environments such as those found in much of the world’s oceans (pink). The structure of PhoX and of its active site are shown with the cofactor iron atoms orange, calcium ions green, and the oxygen atom red. A phosphate ion bound at the active site is shown in stick representation † (Click to enlarge)
The findings, from Professor Ben Berks' group in Biochemistry and Professor Susan Lea's group in the Dunn School of Pathology, are published in a paper in Science (1). Principal researchers on the work are Chien Yong and Pietro Roversi.
The group's work on the alkaline phosphatase PhoX, which has implications across disciplines ranging from chemistry to microbial ecology, has identified a new and unexpected catalytic cofactor. Structural analysis of PhoX suggests a novel mechanism of action not seen in other phosphatases.
Phosphate-containing macromolecules and metabolites are essential components in all living cells. Under conditions of phosphate deficiency, microorganisms produce alkaline phosphatase enzymes to release phosphate from phosphate-containing organic compounds in the environment.
† The map is reproduced with modifications from an image by David Bice at https://www.e-education.psu.edu/earth103/node/694 under a creative commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license