Fatty Acid Biosynthesis


Fatty acids are produced by most organisms on this planet, mainly for use in membranes or as a long‐term store of energy. While the overall organization and arrangement of the enzyme complexes varies, the underlying chemistry used to assemble fatty acids is virtually identical in every organism; the crucial step being decarboxylative addition of malonate thioesters to elongate the growing acyl chain by two carbons, followed by reduction, dehydration and reduction of the resulting 3‐oxo functionality to 3‐CH2, prior to further chain elongation.

Keywords: fatty acid; desaturase; acyl carrier protein; malonyl‐CoA; acetyl‐CoA carboxylase

Figure 12.

Incorporation of acetyl‐CoA into both the ‘starter unit’ and ‘extender units’ and incorporation of malonyl‐CoA into extender units only.

Figure 13.

Fatty acid synthase complex showing all necessary enzymatic activities, cofactors and ‘swinging arm’ thiol.



Foster SP (1998) Sex pheromone biosynthesis in the Tortricid moth Planotortrix excessana (Walker) involves chain shortening of palmitoleate and oleate. Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology 37: 158–167.

Heath RJ and Rock CO (1996) Roles of FabA and FabZβ‐hydroxyacyl acyl carrier protein dehydratases in Escherichia coli fatty acid biosynthesis. Journal of Biological Chemistry 271: 27795–27801.

Kolodziej SJ, PenczeK PA, Schroeter JP and Stoops JK (1996) Structure–function relationships of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae fatty acid synthase. Three‐dimensional structure. Journal of Biological Chemistry 271: 28422–28429.

Leesong M, Henderson BS, Gillig JR, Schwab JM and Smith JL (1996) Structure of a dehydratase‐isomerase from the bacterial pathway for the biosynthesis of unsaturated fatty acids: two catalytic activities in one active site. Structure 4: 253–263.

Lindqvist Y, Huang WJ, Schneider G and Shanklin J (1996) Crystal structure of a Δ9 stearoyl‐acyl carrier protein desaturase from castor seed and its relationship to other di‐iron proteins. EMBO Journal 15: 4081–4092.

Magnuson K, Jackowski S, Rock CO and Cronan JE Jr (1993) Regulation of fatty acid biosynthesis in Escherichia coli. Microbiological Reviews 57: 522–542.

Mpuru S, Reed JR, Reitz RC and Blomquist GJ (1996) Mechanism of hydrocarbon biosynthesis from aldehyde in selected insect species: requirement for O2 and NADPH and carbonyl group released as CO2. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 26: 203–208.

Rawlings BJ (1997) Biosynthesis of fatty acids and related metabolites. Natural Product Reports 14: 335–358.

Rawlings BJ (1998) Biosynthesis of fatty acids and related metabolites. Natural Product Reports 15: 275–308.

Rock CO and Cronan JE Jr (1996) Escherichia coli as a model for the regulation of dissociable (type II) fatty acid biosynthesis. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1302: 1–16.

Vanden Boon T and Cronan JE Jr (1989) Genetics and regulation of bacterial lipid metabolism. Annual Review of Microbiology 43: 317–343.

Wakil SJ (1989) Fatty acid synthase, a proficient multifunctional enzyme. Biochemistry 28: 4523–4530.

Wakil SJ and Stoops JK (1983) Structure and mechanism of fatty acid synthase. The Enzymes 16: 3–61.

Wakil SJ and Stoops JK (1984) Fatty acid synthetases of eukaryotic cells.In: Martonsi AN (ed.) The Enzymes of Biological Membranes,vol. 2, pp. 59–109. New York: Plenum Press.

Witkowski A, Joshi A and Smith S (1996) Fatty acid synthase: in vivo complementation of inactive mutants. Biochemistry 35: 10569–10575.

Further Reading

Abeles RH, Frey PA and Jencks WP (1992) Biochemistry. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Dewick PM (1997) Medicinal Natural Products. Chichester: Wiley.

O'Hagan D (1991) The Polyketide Metabolites. Chichester: Ellis Horwood.

Mann J (1987) Secondary Metabolism, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stryer L (1988) Biochemistry, 3rd edn. New York: WH Freeman.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Rawlings, Bernard James(Jul 2001) Fatty Acid Biosynthesis. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001390]