The biosynthesis of conjugated triene-containing fatty acids by the red alga Ptilota filicina is catalyzed by a novel enzyme, polyenoic fatty acid isomerase. The enzyme has been highly purified and is described here for the first time. Matrix-assisted laser-induced desorption mass spectrometry was used to determine that the major protein in the purified enzyme is composed of similar or identical subunits of M(r) 58,119 Da. The native enzyme emerges with an apparent M(r) of 174,000 Da from a gel permeation chromatography column. While this enzyme catalyzes the formation of conjugated trienes from a variety of polyunsaturated fatty acid precursors [arachidonate ((5Z,8Z,11Z,14Z)- eicosatetraenoate) is converted to (5Z,7E,9E,14Z)-eicosatetraenoate; gamma-linolenate ((6Z,9Z,12Z)-octadecatrienoate) is converted to 6Z,8E,-10E-octadecatrienoate], this occurs most rapidly with eicosapentaenoate [(5Z,7E,9E,14Z,17Z)- eicosapentaenoate], which is likely the native substrate. Through a series of experiments utilizing gamma-linolenates stereospecifically labeled with deuterium, we have determined that the enzyme intramolecularly transfers the bis-allylic pro-S hydrogen from the C11 position to the C13 position. Furthermore, the bis-allylic pro-R hydrogen at C8 in gamma-linolenate is lost to the solvent. Using arachidonate as substrate, we demonstrated that the C11 olefinic position becomes protonated by a solvent-derived proton. There appears to be no requirement for molecular oxygen, and the transformation is catalyzed by this single enzyme.