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How half a century of research was required to understand bacterial growth on C1 and C2 compounds; the story of the serine cycle and the ethylmalonyl-CoA pathway

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For bacterial growth on substrates with only one or two carbon atoms, special assimilation pathways are required. In 1957, the glyoxylate cycle of Kornberg and Krebs was described for bacterial growth on C2 compounds such as ethanol and acetate. However this pathway did not operate in some photosynthetic bacteria and in some methylotrophs when they were growing on C2 compounds, so an alternative pathway must exist. By 1973 Quayle's serine cycle had been described for methylotrophs growing on C1 compounds such as methanol, but the pathway was incomplete, the unknown part also functioning during growth on C2 compounds. After more than 35 further years of research, the ethylmalonyl-CoA (EMC) pathway for growth on C2 compounds, of photosynthetic bacteria has recently been elucidated. This pathway also operates in methylotrophs during growth on C2 compounds, and on C1 compounds by way of the serine cycle. This review is a celebration of half a century of research and of the fascinating result of that research.
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