Biocatalysis: Developing New-to-Nature Reactions
Biocatalysis draws upon organic chemistry, catalysis, enzymology, biochemistry, and protein engineering to apply enzymes to modern challenges in synthetic chemistry. When reactions can be performed by enzymes, they are often the catalysts of choice: they catalyze reactions with fast rates, form products with excellent selectivities, and require low catalyst loadings. Additionally, biocatalysts adhere to numerous principles of green chemistry: they are sustainably sourced from renewable & earth-abundant materials, are produced in nontoxic host organisms, do not require large amounts of organic solvents for reactions, and are chemically nonhazardous among other benefits.
Currently, the largest obstacle impeding further implementation of biocatalysis in chemical industry is that enzymes have limited scope of reactivity compared to man-made catalysts and reagents. Expanding the chemical reactivity of enzymes is a critical research direction for the development of more sustainable catalysts. Our lab seeks to identify new strategies to imbue enzymes with new-to-nature catalytic function which can be improved using directed evolution. The discovery of new activity can do more than recapitulate human chemistry: it could leverage the powerful selectivities of enzymes to solve longstanding challenges in selective chemical synthesis using an environmentally friendly, industrially applicable platform.