Mg-chelatase catalyses the insertion of Mg into protoporphyrin IX (Proto). This seemingly simple reaction also is potentially one of the most interesting and crucial steps in the (bacterio)chlorophyll (Bchl/Chl)-synthesis pathway, owing to its position at the branch-point between haem and Bchl/Chl synthesis. Up until the level of Proto, haem and Bchl/Chl synthesis share a common pathway. However, at the point of metal-ion insertion there are two choices: Mg2+ insertion to make Bchl/Chl (catalysed by Mg-chelatase) or Fe2+ insertion to make haem (catalysed by ferrochelatase). Thus the relative activities of Mg-chelatase and ferrochelatase must be regulated with respect to the organism's requirements for these end products . How is this regulation achieved? For Mg-chelatase, the recent design of an in vitro assay combined with the identification of Bchl-biosynthetic enzyme genes has now made it possible to address this question. In all photosynthetic organisms studied to date, Mg-chelatase is a three-component enzyme, and in several species these proteins have been cloned and expressed in an active form. The reaction takes place in two steps, with an ATP-dependent activation followed by an ATP-dependent chelation step. The activation step may be the key to regulation, although variations in subunit levels during diurnal growth may also play a role in determining the flux through the Bchl/Chl and haem branches of the pathway.

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