Enzymes, the large biological molecules responsible for thousands of metabolic processes that sustain life, are high-precision, tiny tools that nature has programmed to solve certain tasks perfectly. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell needs enzymes in order to move at rates sufficient to sustain life.

In biocatalysis, scientists use natural catalysts, such as protein enzymes, to perform chemical transformations on organic compounds. The enzymes are been more or less isolated and enzymes still residing inside living cells. The search for new industrial usable enzyme functions is very complex, yet a vital area of study that is paving the way for science to find new ways for cells to repair damage or alter their functions.

A project of the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) and the University of Graz is working on a new approach to sharing information, dubbed the “Catalophor System.” The Catalohor Systems is a combination of database and search engine that filters specific enzyme functions out of tens of thousands of protein structure data. It can even track functionalities that have not been discovered yet.

Here’s how it works: Similar to a search engine type search, the query will starts by asking the program a  question about the required enzyme function. “We focus on the active site of the enzyme and write a program which specifies the positions and distances of the most important amino acids as well as important structural features in the vicinity of the active site”, explains ACIB researcher Christian Gruber.
“We focus on the active site of the enzyme and write a program which specifies the positions and distances of the most important amino acids as well as important structural features in the vicinity of the active site”, explains acib researcher Christian Gruber.

On the basis of this script the “Catalophor System” browses 100.000+ database entries for similarities, creating a weighted list of possible answers to the question. In the next step, the most promising candidates are manufactured and tested in the lab. The initial computations are stored in the computer’s memories, giving researchers access to countless experiments and screenings for new enzyme functionality.

“Based on the protein structures we can discover new possible reaction pathways of enzymes that have not been described yet. For the chemical industry our approach opens up new reaction pathways that were not possible until now,” says Prof. K. Gruber. The opportunity to replace conventional industrial processes with environmentally friendly and more economic enzymatic methods increases. And it can offer alternatives to patented industrial enzymes.

Here’s more about ACIB’s research on biocatalysis and enzymes.Pretty cool, huh?

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