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Robust enzymes open the way to waste reduction

2 November 2023
Enzymes can be used for various purposes, such as medicine production, recycling, and detecting diseases. Three researchers have succeeded in making enzymes more robust. This opens the way to more efficient and sustainable ways of using enzymes.

Chemists Tom Grossmann, Sven Hennig and Saskia Neubacher published their research in Chem. To further develop the research and its application, the researchers founded the VU spin-off Incircular, led by Neubacher.

Enzymes are small molecular machines that help with various chemical reactions. They are made up of linear 'strings' of amino acids that fold into a three-dimensional shape so that they can carry out their function. In humans, they play a crucial role in processes like digesting food, reading the genetic code, and even seeing colors. In biotechnology, enzymes found various applications such as for synthesizing drugs, recycling waste, and detecting diseases.

High temperatures
Currently, enzymes cannot yet be fully harnessed for the production of fine chemicals, materials and drugs. This is because enzymes do not normally remain stable under the required conditions, such as high temperatures. Therefore, the scientists used chemical modification to interlink these strings, creating new cyclic enzymes. Such cyclic enzymes are stronger, and the process prevents the three-dimensional structure from unravelling. These engineered enzymes have the advantage that they can survive for weeks at high temperatures.

Waste reduction
The research, supported by the European Research Council and European Innovation Council, offers opportunities for new applications of robust enzymes. Enzymes are produced from renewable resources and facilitate environmentally friendly production processes. The findings of the VU researchers can therefore contribute to less waste and more efficient use of resources.