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The challenge

Natural enzymes are good at their jobs, but not always at what we want to use them for

In nature, enzymes have evolved to perform chemical reactions that are important for healthy cellular function.

Evolving a better pesticide degrading enzyme: the pesticide makes the plate cloudy, and the enzyme degrades the pesticide making it clear. The laboratory evolved enzymes (e.g., G3) degrade the pesticide faster than the natural enzyme (WT).

However, these enzymes are often not well suited to environmental and industrial applications: for example, they can be too slow at their chemical reaction, too difficult and expensive to produce or so unstable that they can’t be stored.

Our response

Engineering and evolution

To improve the properties of enzymes, we use sophisticated enzyme engineering strategies that use atomic resolution structural information about the enzymes and advance molecular modelling.

When we don’t have enough information to use a rational engineering approach, we use laboratory evolution (a pioneering technique developed by 2018 Nobel Laureate Prof Frances Arnold) – this technique uses the principles of natural evolution to select for improvements in enzymes.

The results

Improving on nature

We have used engineering and evolution to improve enzymes for pesticide clean up and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, flavour and fragrance compounds and plastics and polymers.

We have also invented new engineering approaches for the production of ‘nanomachines’ – enzymes adapted for use in highly intensified continuous flow applications.

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