Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential membrane components in higher eukaryotes and are the precursors of many lipid-derived signaling molecules. Here, pathways for PUFA synthesis are described that do not require desaturation and elongation of saturated fatty acids. These pathways are catalyzed by polyketide synthases (PKSs) that are distinct from previously recognized PKSs in both structure and mechanism. Generation of cis double bonds probably involves position-specific isomerases; such enzymes might be useful in the production of new families of antibiotics. It is likely that PUFA synthesis in cold marine ecosystems is accomplished in part by these PKS enzymes.
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