The Enzyme Spring: Biocatalysis

The Enzyme Spring: Biocatalysis

Author: Lois O'Leary

Biocatalysis is experiencing a revolution. With applications in chemicals production spanning from pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals to flavors and fragrances to bulk chemicals, e.g., monomers and polymers, it has enormous potential. Asymmetric transformations can be accomplished elegantly with superb enantioselectivity, for example, and complex products can be generated from simple building blocks by using multi-enzyme cascade reactions. Current hot topics include biocatalysts for asymmetric synthesis, their in silico design, and multi-enzyme cascades. Also driving the field towards wider industrial application are investigations into enzyme immobilization, protein engineering, directed evolution, high-throughput screening, enzyme promiscuity, and the use of non-aqueous systems.

Biocatalysis typically involves close collaboration with neighboring fields such as biotechnology. For example, in silico design of biocatalysts, including synthetic enzymes, is coupled with mutagenesis and screening to increase catalytic activity. Fine tuning of substrate specificity, enantioselectivity, stability under process conditions, and tolerance to organic solvents are all enabled by directed evolution. Engineered microbial cell factories enable the multiple expression of several genes for advanced catalytic function.

Nick Turner, University of Manchester, UK, and Andy Wells, consultant in sustainable chemical manufacturing, Quorn, UK, compiled a special issue on biocatalysis for ChemCatChem. It showcases contributions from experts across the field – take a look!

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