Enzymes – searching for the most important tools of the bio-industry

Enzymes become more and more important as components of industrial processes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Enzymes are biocatalysts that accelerate chemical reactions within an organism. In the body, these proteins act as accelerators of biochemical reactions. This means the complex molecules make our lives possible.

There is a huge variety of enzymes with different abilities as nature offers biocatalysts for almost every biochemical reaction. Their names typically end with “-ase”, for example cellulase, lipase or isomerase.

With very specific functions, enzymes offer great potential for various industries

The reaction and function of enzymes are very specific. Therefore, enzymes can be used as special tools to convert, degrade or refine biobased products. They are needed for food production, but also for technical applications in the chemical, pharmaceutical and paper industries, among others.

Today when baking bread microbial enzymes often supplement endogenous enzymes of flour. (Photo by Louise Lyshøj on Unsplash)

 

Enzymes have become indispensable in the production of detergents, bread and beer. At the same time, enzymes enable a lot of processes in molecular biological research. Biocatalysts have a broad range of applications with great potential for the bioeconomy.

Active sites of enzymes, so-called cavities, are essential for the specific reaction of the molecule. These active sites are cavities where certain reactions take place. The aggregation of amino acids in the active site, in combination with their position in 3D space, determines the size and shape of the cavity and its specific chemical behavior.

Enzyme cavities are the essential part of an enzyme that map the specific functions.

Enzyme cavities are the essential part of an enzyme that map the specific functions.

Using artificial intelligence simplifies the process of identifying new enzymes

Enzymes are the largest and most diverse group within the range of proteins. Currently, about 5,400 different enzyme classes are described in detail worldwide. Enzymes have become an important part of industrial biotechnology. The Association of Enzyme Manufacturers AMFEP alone lists almost 250 enzymes that are currently commercially available. A lot of them even patented. New enzymes are needed to sustainably discover innovative ways to produce drugs, fine chemical intermediates or environmentally friendly products. However, this is not so easy.

Enzymes are natural substances that are very complex and cannot be chemically reproduced. Consequently, there are still many unknown enzymes scientists intensively search for. This search is currently mainly carried out in wet laboratories. But laboratory research for enzyme functions required in industry is expensive, extremely time-consuming and subject to restrictions. Protein engineering therefore is gaining more and more attention. It is a method of changing for example an enzyme sequence to achieve a desired result like a change in the substrate specificity, or increased stability regarding temperature, among others.

In silico methods use supercomputers to identify new enzymes for biocatalytic processes

In silico methods use supercomputers to identify new enzymes for biocatalytic processes

 

Recent scientific developments use artificial intelligence and big data approaches to find new and unknown enzymes. On the computer (in-silico) structural databases of enzyme cavities allow the targeted search for desired biocatalytic processes. State-of-the-art technology enable completely new approaches for the complex search process and offer huge potential for the future of white biotech. These methods can drastically improve quality and costs of products or the way new therapies are developed.

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