Identification of a Kdn biosynthesis pathway in the haptophyte Prymnesium parvum suggests widespread sialic acid biosynthesis among microalgae.

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Sialic acids are a family of more than 50 structurally distinct acidic sugars on the surface of all vertebrate cells where they terminate glycan chains and are exposed to many interactions with the surrounding environment. In particular, sialic acids play important roles in cell-cell and host-pathogen interactions. The sialic acids or related nonulosonic acids have been observed in Deuterostome lineages, Eubacteria, and Archaea but are notably absent from plants. However, the structurally related C8 acidic sugar 3-deoxy-d-manno-2-octulosonic acid (Kdo) is present in Gram-negative bacteria and plants as a component of bacterial lipopolysaccharide and pectic rhamnogalacturonan II in the plant cell wall. Until recently, sialic acids were not thought to occur in algae, but as in plants, Kdo has been observed in algae. Here, we report the de novo biosynthesis of the deaminated sialic acid, 3-deoxy-d-glycero-d-galacto-2-nonulosonic acid (Kdn), in the toxin-producing microalga Prymnesium parvum Using biochemical methods, we show that this alga contains CMP-Kdn and identified and recombinantly expressed the P. parvum genes encoding Kdn-9-P synthetase and CMP-Kdn synthetase enzymes that convert mannose-6-P to CMP-Kdn. Bioinformatics analysis revealed sequences related to those of the two P. parvum enzymes, suggesting that sialic acid biosynthesis is likely more widespread among microalgae than previously thought and that this acidic sugar may play a role in host-pathogen interactions involving microalgae. Our findings provide evidence that P. parvum has the biosynthetic machinery for de novo production of the deaminated sialic acid Kdn and that sialic acid biosynthesis may be common among microalgae.