Point of View
Point of View
28 Feb 2021
WHAT DETERGENTS, JUICES, AND MEDICINES HAVE IN COMMON
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. They are all around us, in the detergents we wash our clothes with, in the juices we drink, in the breads we eat, and in the medicines we consume. They are also inside us and all other living organisms, where they accelerate all of life’s reactions and are hence often referred to as “biocatalysts.” Though the name “Enzyme” was coined in 1878, we have been exploiting them for ages to make cheese and brew beer. Now, they are widely used in varied industries like detergents, pulp and paper, food processing, leather, textiles, and as biocatalysts in pharmaceutical manufacturing. To meet the rigorous needs of industrial applications, enzymes need to be modified. This can be achieved through Enzyme Engineering.
LET’S GET TECHNICAL
Like all proteins, enzymes are composed of amino acids and encoded by nucleotide sequences (genes). They can be evolved by making changes in their amino acid sequences. Nature achieves this over long periods through random mutagenesis of genes and natural selection. The process can now be accelerated in a laboratory, and an enzyme can be engineered within weeks or months. In this method, called Directed Evolution, mutations are introduced in enzymes, the variants are screened, and the best variants are selected. The cycle is repeated until desired properties are obtained.
If an exhaustive understanding of the enzyme structure and mechanism is available, specific residues can be targeted for mutation. Referred to as enzyme engineering by rational design, this process has nowadays become more prominent with the advancement of computational biology. Using computational methods, several enzyme variants can be screened in silico and only top variants are taken up for experimental verification. A combination of directed evolution and the rational design approach, also called the semi-rational approach, can further enhance enzyme engineering efficiency.
Over the past three decades, enzyme engineering has not only improved existing enzymes but also created enzymes with novel properties. It has played an essential role in synthetic biology, medicine, and biomanufacturing. Enzyme engineering is paving the way for a sustainable “Green Chemistry” future where reactions are quicker, generate less waste, and are environment friendly. Emerging technologies like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are expected to accelerate enzyme engineering and further its real-world impact.