An era of engineering

Friday 08 Jun 18

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Ditte Hededam Welner
Group Leader
DTU Biosustain
+45 93 51 34 98

Contact

Anders Østerby Mønsted
Communications Officer
DTU Biosustain
+45 24 67 79 47

A new research group will focus on developing enzyme biocatalysts for the industrial production of natural products used as aromas, fragrances, dyes and pharmaceuticals.

Enzymes are abundantly used in the large-scale production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. However, the microbial kingdom still represents an enormous and unexploited potential for enzymes with specific properties, and hence, biocatalysts of microbial origin that are used in a majority of industrial processes.

The Enzyme Engineering and Structural Biology group at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, DTU, are heavily focused on glycosyltransferases (GTFs). Glycosyltransferases are enzymes that establish natural glycosidic linkages, and they are used in the synthesis of glycosylated libraries of drugs or natural products in the context of drug discovery and drug development.

One of the main tasks in the recently established research group will be to systematically study a large class of enzymes to get a more detailed understanding of how they function in different contexts.

“Imagine that you have an industrial pipeline where you are struggling to produce a high enough yield of a chemical, but you have no clue why. This could potentially be due to the enzyme you selected, and in this context our knowledge makes us able to assist and guide the researchers to either pick an enzyme that is more effective or engineer it to be more effective,” says Ditte Hededam Welner, Group Leader at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, DTU.

This field is commonly known as enzyme engineering. A process by which one can improve the activity and efficiency of an existing enzyme or create a new enzyme activity by making relevant changes in its amino acid sequence.

Enzyme engineering is by many expected to contribute significantly in replacing the current chemical synthesis routes with bio-based processes, which will constitute a big step towards a greener society by opening up for the production of new-to-nature glycosides.

Super enzymes

According to BCC Research, the global market of industrial enzymes was nearly 4.9 billion US dollars in 2015 and is anticipated to reach around 6.3 billion US dollars by 2021.

"I would like for our group to have so much knowledge and detailed understanding of enzyme classes that we in any given situation are able to suggest to the researchers or the industry which enzyme they should use in a specific context"
Ditte Hededam Welner, Group Leader

Thus, Ditte Hededam Welner is also completely certain that enzymes in the future will continue to be the main driver towards creating a more sustainable society.

“It is living organisms that make enzymes, and scientists find organisms on a daily basis that can live in the most extreme places on Earth. If organisms are able to live under extreme conditions, e.g. high temperatures, it means that the enzymes are as well. This constitutes a major potential since enzymes are widely used in novel and diverse applications in the food, feed, agriculture and textile industries producing a significant decline in their manufacturing cost,” she says.

The group leader further explains that a more mechanistic understanding of enzymes will make it easier to translate research, thus, making it more industrially relevant.

“If an industry is going to use an enzyme then it has to be very easy to apply. I would like for our group to have so much knowledge and detailed understanding of enzyme classes that we in any given situation are able to suggest to the researchers or the industry which enzyme they should use in a specific context. That is the ultimate goal. There are so many different possibilities of using them, but we still lack knowledge,” says Ditte Hededam Welner.

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http://www.biosustain.dtu.dk/english/nyhedsbase/Nyhed?id=%7BB13541AE-CAB6-4CE0-AAC9-56D08863E2AD%7D
18 AUGUST 2018