Ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase activates O2 by electron transfer

Camille Bathellier, Li Juan Yu, Graham D. Farquhar, Michelle L. Coote, George H. Lorimer, Guillaume Tcherkez

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) is the cornerstone of atmospheric CO2 fixation by the biosphere. It catalyzes the addition of CO2 onto enolized ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate (RuBP), producing 3-phosphoglycerate which is then converted to sugars. The major problem of this reaction is competitive O2 addition, which forms a phosphorylated product (2-phosphoglycolate) that must be recycled by a series of biochemical reactions (photorespiratory metabolism). However, the way the enzyme activates O2 is still unknown. Here, we used isotope effects (with 2H, 25Mg, and 18O) to monitor O2 activation and assess the influence of outer sphere atoms, in two Rubisco forms of contrasted O2/CO2 selectivity. Neither the Rubisco form nor the use of solvent D2O and deuterated RuBP changed the 16O/18O isotope effect of O2 addition, in clear contrast with the 12C/13C isotope effect of CO2 addition. Furthermore, substitution of light magnesium (24Mg) by heavy, nuclear magnetic 25Mg had no effect on O2 addition. Therefore, outer sphere protons have no influence on the reaction and direct radical chemistry (intersystem crossing with triplet O2) does not seem to be involved in O2 activation. Computations indicate that the reduction potential of enolized RuBP (near 0.49 V) is compatible with superoxide (O2•−) production, must be insensitive to deuteration, and yields a predicted 16O/18O isotope effect and energy barrier close to observed values. Overall, O2 undergoes single electron transfer to form short-lived superoxide, which then recombines to form a peroxide intermediate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24234-24242
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Isotope effect
  • Mechanism
  • Oxygenation
  • Photosynthesis
  • Rubisco


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