Iron/sulfur centers are key cofactors of proteins intervening in multiple conserved cellular processes, such as gene expression, DNA repair, RNA modification, central metabolism and respiration. Mechanisms allowing Fe/S centers to be assembled, and inserted into polypeptides have attracted much attention in the last decade, both in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Basic principles and recent advances in our understanding of the prokaryotic Fe/S biogenesis ISC and SUF systems are reviewed in the present communication. Most studies covered stem from investigations in Escherichia coli and Azotobacter vinelandii. Remarkable insights were brought about by complementary structural, spectroscopic, biochemical and genetic studies. Highlights of the recent years include scaffold mediated assembly of Fe/S cluster, A-type carriers mediated delivery of clusters and regulatory control of Fe/S homeostasis via a set of interconnected genetic regulatory circuits. Also, the importance of Fe/S biosynthesis systems in mediating soft metal toxicity was documented. A brief account of the Fe/S biosynthesis systems diversity as present in current databases is given here. Moreover, Fe/S biosynthesis factors have themselves been the object of molecular tailoring during evolution and some examples are discussed here. An effort was made to provide, based on the E. coli system, a general classification associating a given domain with a given function such as to help next search and annotation of genomes. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Metals in Bioenergetics and Biomimetics Systems.
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