Alginates are abundant marine anionic polysaccharides consumed by humans. Thus, over the years some understanding has emerged about alginate utilization by human gut microbiota (HGM). However, insights have been obtained only recently at the molecular level with regard to structure and function of alginate degrading and metabolizing enzymes from HGM. Still, numerous studies report on effects of alginates on bacterial communities from digestive tracts of various, predominantly marine organisms feeding on alginate and some of the involved alginate lyases have been characterized. Other studies describe the beneficial impact on gut microbiota elicited by alginates in animal models, for example, high-fat-diet-fed mice addressing obesity or as feed supplements for livestock. Alginates are depolymerized by a β-elimination reaction catalyzed by polysaccharide lyases (PLs) referred to as alginate lyases (ALs). The ALs are found in 15 of the 42 PL families categorized in the CAZy database. While genome mining has led to prediction of ALs encoded by bacteria of the HGM; currently, only four enzymes from this niche have been characterized biochemically and two crystal structures are reported. Alginates are composed of mannuronate (M) and guluronate (G) residues organized in M-, G-, and MG-blocks, which calls for ALs of complementary specificity to effectively depolymerize alginate to alginate oligosaccharides (AOSs) and monosaccharides. Typically, ALs of different PL families are encoded by genes arranged in clusters denoted as polysaccharide utilization loci. Currently, biochemical and structural analyses of marine bacterial ALs contribute to depicting the mode of action of predicted enzymes from bacteria of the HGM.

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