Alginate is a polysaccharide consisting of β-D-mannuronate (M) and α-L-guluronate (G) produced by brown algae and some bacterial species. Alginate has a wide range of industrial and pharmaceutical applications, owing mainly to its gelling and viscosifying properties. Alginates with high G content are considered more valuable since the G residues can form hydrogels with divalent cations. Alginates are modified by lyases, acetylases, and epimerases. Alginate lyases are produced by alginate-producing organisms and by organisms that use alginate as a carbon source. Acetylation protects alginate from lyases and epimerases. Following biosynthesis, alginate C-5 epimerases convert M to G residues at the polymer level. Alginate epimerases have been found in brown algae and alginate-producing bacteria, predominantly Azotobacter and Pseudomonas species. The best characterised epimerases are the extracellular family of AlgE1-7 from Azotobacter vinelandii(Av). AlgE1-7 all consist of combinations of one or two catalytic A-modules and one to seven regulatory R-modules, but even though they are sequentially and structurally similar, they create different epimerisation patterns. This makes the AlgE enzymes promising for tailoring of alginates to have the desired properties. The present review describes the current state of knowledge regarding alginate-active enzymes with focus on epimerases, characterisation of the epimerase reaction, and how alginate epimerases can be used in alginate production.

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