The L -arabinose operon , also called the ara or araBAD operon , is an operon that encodes enzymes needed for the catabolism of arabinose in Escherichia coli . It has both positive and negative regulation and is activated allosterically .

It has been a focus for research in molecular biology since 1970, and has been investigated extensively at its genetic , biochemical , physiological , and biophysical levels.

In E. coli , arabinose is converted to xylulose 5-phosphate , an intermediate of the pentose phosphate pathway . [3]


The structural genes , which encode enzymes for arabinose catabolism, are araB , araA , and araD (collectively known as araBAD ). The regulator gene is araC . The genes araBAD and araC are transcribed in opposite directions. [3]

D -xylulose 5-phosphate and D -ribulose-5-phosphate are metabolites in the pentose phosphate pathway .

The operators are araI and araO 2 . The operators lie between the AraC .

AraI lies between the structural genes and the operator. The araI 1 and araI 2 are DNA-binding sites that, when occupied by AraC, induce expression.

Sequence of the Operon
5' araC araO araI araB araA araD 3'
Regulator Operator Structural

(Distances not to scale)



The ara operon is regulated by the AraC protein . If arabinose is absent, the dimer AraC protein represses the structural gene by binding to araI 1 and araO 2 and the DNA forms a loop. The loop prevents RNA polymerase from binding to the promoter of the ara operon, thereby blocking transcription .


When arabinose is present, arabinose binds AraC and prevents AraC from interacting. This breaks the DNA loop. The two AraC-arabinose complexes bind to the araI 1 and araI 2 sites which promotes transcription. When arabinose is present, AraC acts as an activator.

Metabolism of arabinose in E. coli
Substrate Protein(s) Function Reversible Product
L - arabinose AraA isomerase yes L -ribulose
L - ribulose AraB ribulokinase no L -ribulose-phosphate
L -ribulose-phosphate AraD epimerase yes D -xylulose-phosphate

If arabinose is present, it builds a complex: AraC + arabinose
This complex is needed for RNA polymerase to bind to the promoter and transcribe the ara operon. Also for activation the binding of another structure to araI is needed: CRP (formerly known as CAP) + cyclic AMP
So the activation depends on the presence of arabinose and cAMP.

See also

  • The lac operon is another operon in E. coli that has been a focus for research in gene expression.