Unique to plants in the Brassicaceae family, the production of the plant defense hormone salicylic acid (SA) from isochorismate is accelerated by an evolutionarily young isochorismoyl-glutamate pyruvoyl-glutamate lyase, EPS1, which belongs to the BAHD acyltransferase protein family. Here, we report the crystal structures of apo and substrate-analog-bound EPS1 from Arabidopsis thaliana. Assisted by microsecond molecular dynamics simulations, we uncover a unique pericyclic rearrangement lyase mechanism facilitated by the active site of EPS1. We reconstitute the isochorismate-derived pathway of SA biosynthesis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which serves as an in vivo platform that helps identify active-site residues critical for EPS1 activity. This study describes the birth of a new catalyst in plant phytohormone biosynthesis by reconfiguring the ancestral active site of a progenitor enzyme to catalyze alternative reaction.
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