We’re making industry more sustainable with nanomachines that can convert low-value renewable feedstocks into high-value products, such as pharmaceuticals.

The challenge

Reducing reliance on petrochemicals

One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is to devise ways to make industry less reliant on unsustainable petrochemical feedstocks and more environmentally friendly.

Biocatalysis – using enzymes as catalysts – has the potential to meet this challenge. The technology offers an attractive alternative to some traditional manufacturing methods, reducing the use of petrochemicals and providing more efficient ways to manufacture pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

However, a lack of designability of biocatalysts and an insufficient toolbox of well-characterised, ready-to-use enzymes has limited advances in the area. In particular, biocatalytic processes involving energy-intensive reactions, which require an additional cofactor (helper molecule) to enable catalysis, remain elusive.

Our response

Enzyme nanomachines

With our collaborators at the University of Manchester, we have designed enzyme nanomachines, comprising both protein and chemical elements, that are able to efficiently catalyse these energy-intensive reactions.

Our nanomachines have an in-built protein mechanism to attach them to surfaces, such as beads, so we can build nanomachine reactors for flow chemistry (where chemical reactions take place in a tube for pipe). Each nanomachine reactor catalyses a specific chemical reaction step. The nanomachine reactors can be combined to create a nanofactory for multi-step manufacturing processes.

The results

Nanofactories for efficient and environmentally friendly manufacturing

We have developed and patented an efficient nanofactory system, comprising several different nanomachine reactors that can convert glycerol into useful high-value molecules such as pharmaceuticals (e.g. anti-diabetic drugs).

Our nanomachines have successfully demonstrated new ways of chemo-enzymatic designability for more efficient biocatalysts, expanding the toolbox of biocatalysts available to provide cleaner, greener manufacturing.

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