UCI biochemists have cracked a tough riddle in record time, according to recent articles in the journal Science. They’ve determined the origin of a carbide ion in nitrogenase, the only known biological catalyst capable of converting dinitrogen into ammonia and carbon monoxide into
hydrocarbons. The discovery by Markus Ribbe, professor of molecular biology & biochemistry, his co-principal investigator Yilin Hu, and co-workers Jared Wiig and Chi Chung Lee could be useful for such industrial applications as ammonia or hydrocarbon production. “We are getting close to a complete understanding of how the remarkably complex active site of this enzyme is synthesized in the bacterial cell,” Ribbe said. The work, supported by a National Institutes of Health grant, was featured in the Sept. 28 issue of Science. Another article in the same issue praised the team for making the notable finding in less than a year.