This project is carried out in the group of Industrial Biotechnology.
Researchers: Silvia Hüttner, Lisbeth Olsson
The aim of the OPTIBIOCAT project is to replace chemical processes, which are currently used for the production of compounds for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries, with enzymatic bioconversion processes.
Bioconversions use enzymes - natural catalysts - that can carry out specific reactions very selectively and efficiently. In contrast to conventional chemical synthesis, much fewer steps are needed to obtain the product. Additionally, fewer unwanted side reactions are taking place, which reduces the need and effort to remove by-products in order to obtain clean and high-quality substances. As bioconversions employ enzymes, which are proteins, the process takes place under low temperatures (50-60°C), whereas chemical synthesis often needs much higher temperatures (>160°C). Thus, the use of enzymes potentially results in a more cost-effective, energy-efficient, eco-friendly and overall more sustainable process.
In the OPTIBIOCAT project we are developing novel enzymes (specifically feruloyl esterases, FAEs, and glucuronoyl esterases, GEs), which will allow the production of antioxidant compounds with improved qualities. To find new FAEs and GEs, we are mining fungal and bacterial genomes for the presence of these enzymes, and subsequently engineer the most promising candidates for improved stability, selectivity and activity. Additionally, we are working on the immobilisation of the enzymes on carriers made out of silica nanoparticles, with the aim of making the enzymes more stable, reusable and easier to separate from the final product. Being able to recycle the biocatalyst leads to further decreased costs and decreased need of resources.
With 16 different partners (universities and companies) from 8 different countries, a highly diverse and interdisciplinary team is working on the production and optimisation of biocatalysts for OPTIBIOCAT. The project is funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and runs for 4 years.