Natural product molecules are biosynthesized by a sequence of reactions which, with very few exceptions, are catalysed by enzymes. Enzymes are protein molecules which facilitate chemical modification of substrates by virtue of their specific binding properties conferred by the particular combination of functional groups in the constituent amino acids. In many cases, a suitable cofactor, e.g. NAD+, PLP, HSCoA (see below), as well as the substrate, may also be bound to participate in the transformation. Although enzymes catalyse some fairly elaborate and sometimes unexpected changes, it is generally possible to account for the reactions using sound chemical principles and mechanisms. As we explore the pathways to a wide variety of natural products, the reactions will generally be discussed in terms of chemical analogies. Enzymes have the power to effect these transformations more efficiently and more rapidly than the chemical analogy, and also under very much milder conditions. Where relevant, they also carry out reactions in a stereospecific manner. Some of the important reactions frequently encountered are now described.
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