Sábado, 4 de Julho de 2009

Enzymes in Biotech

Rafael Almeida | C13

Anacor Pharmaceuticals
Palo Alto, CA | USA

The quest for biotechnologically important enzymes has focused on a new field – extremophile organisms.

 

What are enzymes? Little cellular machines that provide a microenvironment for a chemical reaction to occur. They are not consumed in the reaction, they greatly increase its rate, they are only needed in very minute quantities, and they are very particular about the substrate that they act upon. Because they are proteins codified by genes, they are produced in cells of every living thing - from bacteria, fungi, plants and animals – and can be separated from these cells and continue to function.

 

Why do we care? Because they can do for industry what they do in their cells, where a merely chemical biosynthesis pathway would impossible. Enzymes have been used for a long time – for such an ancient purpose as cheese making when we didn’t even know what enzymes were, to more sophisticated uses such as medical diagnosis, or digesting the gluey sticky pulp that is part of the paper recycling process. They are used in many different industry segments - detergents, food, feed, technical, pharmaceutical, microorganisms and biofuels. 1 kg of enzyme can cost anything from $5 when used unpurified in bulk quantities, to $100 000 for purified, diagnostic enzymes.

The thing is, often the industry processes that lead to the product need to occur under special conditions, such as high temperatures, acidic or caustic conditions, high pressure, etc - which damages the enzyme. Or if it is used in detergents, it will need to be active when the laundry machine is throwing hot water at it. And they are very particular about this – even a slight increase in temperature can completely abolish the enzyme’s activity.

So how can we solve this problem? The answer lies in Nature. For there is life even in the harshest of places - the deepest part of the ocean, the saltiest of the lakes, the hottest underwater vents. And where there is life, there are enzymes. These extremophiles - mainly bacteria or similar organisms, archea - are adapted to function in these places, which means their enzymes function in a temperature or pH range where normally enzymes do not function. Now, we don’t actually need to grow the particular organism that harbors our enzyme in the factory. Because it is codified by a gene, we can use genetic engineering to introduce that gene in a regular, moderate-condition growing organism. And thus we have a mesophyllic organism producing a high-temperature resisting enzyme, which we can then isolate.

Lipolase, developed by Novozymes for its laundry detergent, is a robust lipase with good all-round performance on fatty and oily stains! It is effective under alkaline conditions and across a broad temperature range, and was found in the thermophyle fungus Thermomyces lanuginose. The radioresistant Deinococcus radiodurans is a bacterium that has an enzyme – mercuric reductase – that has been used to detoxify radioactive waste generated from nuclear weapons manufacture. In a molecular biology lab, the routine polymerase chain reaction that involves a series of high-temperature steps uses an enzyme – taq – first isolated in Thermophylus aquaticus, a bacterium discovered to thrive at Yellowstone Park’s hot springs. It is used in genetic fingerprinting (read ‘TV series DNA testing’), diagnosing hereditary and infectious diseases, etc.

The enzyme market is a significant one, estimated at €3.4 billion with an annual growth of about 6.5 to 10%. There are institutions whose sole business is to research and develop extremophile organisms for their clients!

 

publicado por visaocontacto às 14:55
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