Synthetic DNA-based enzymes

August 20, 2018, Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum
Anja Hemschemeier and Thomas Happe consider DNA enzymes as ecologically and economically worthwhile – and feasible. Credit: RUB, Kramer

Enzymes perform very specific functions and require little energy – which is why biocatalysts are also of interest to the chemical industry. In a review article published in the journal Nature Reviews Chemistry, Professor Thomas Happe and Associate Professor Anja Hemschemeier from the Photobiotechnology work group at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have provided a summary on what is known about the mechanisms of enzymes in nature. Moreover, the authors outline a future vision: artificial biocatalysts that are not protein-based, as they usually are in nature, but which are rather made from DNA. The article was published on 17 August 2018.

"Establishing a bio-based, enzyme-powered industry would be of tremendous value both for the sake of climate protection and for economic reasons," says Thomas Happe.

Protein-cofactor interactions are crucial

In nature, the most complicated and energy-intensive reactions are frequently performed by highly complex proteins. They contain cofactors that do not consist of proteins; rather, they are based on inorganic substances, often metals. In their article, Hemschemeier and Happe elaborate on the importance of atomic details for protein-cofactor interactions in so-called metalloenzymes.

The cofactor's chemical makeup is a crucial element towards understanding a metalloenzyme's precise reaction mechanism. Researchers have been manipulating individual atoms of a cofactor in order to decode its significance. "However, this is not always an easy task," says Happe. "That's because chemists have to artificially generate the cofactor, and the synthetic construct has to interact with the enzyme's protein part in a natural manner."

Semi-synthetic enzyme manufactured

A few years ago, a team headed by Thomas Happe succeeded in characterising the hydrogen-producing enzyme hydrogenase. In collaboration with chemists, the biologists developed a semi-synthetic hydrogenase , in which they can replace every single atom of the cofactor. This allows them to unravel how exactly protein and cofactor work together.

Hydrogenases may be usefully deployed in industry, in order to produce the potential energy carrier hydrogen. But natural hydrogenases are not very stable, especially when they are exposed to air. "Therefore, we wondered if we could redesign these enzymes towards more robust versions," explains Thomas Happe.

"Literature already provides many examples for the design of artificial proteins," elaborates Anja Hemschemeier. "However, proteins are often too unstable to meet the industry's requirements."

More stability through DNA

Consequently, the biotechnologists from Bochum have chosen a new approach: they intend to replace proteins by DNA, which is much more stable.

Researchers have known since the 1980s that are capable of catalysing chemical reactions, and this property has been studied in depth ever since. "We've found examples of nucleic acids that feature protein-like characteristics," says Hemschemeier. "They do, for instance, form precise 3-D structures that facilitate specific chemical reactions."

In their review article, Happe and Hemschemeier therefore conclude: it is quite possible that in a not too distant future our industry will be able to utilise DNA-based catalysts that mimic biocatalysts as complex as the hydrogenase.

Explore further: How green algae assemble their enzymes

More information: Anja Hemschemeier et al. The plasticity of redox cofactors: from metalloenzymes to redox-active DNA, Nature Reviews Chemistry (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41570-018-0029-3

Related Stories

How green algae assemble their enzymes

March 27, 2017

Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have analysed how green algae manufacture complex components of a hydrogen-producing enzyme. The enzyme, known as the hydrogenase, may be relevant for the biotechnological production ...

Evolution of a bacterial enzyme in green algae

July 12, 2017

A new jigsaw piece in the evolution of green algae has been identified by researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum together with colleagues from Max Planck Institute in Mülheim an der Ruhr. They analysed the hydrogen-producing ...

How enzymes produce hydrogen

July 21, 2017

Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the Freie Universität Berlin have clarified the crucial catalytic step in the production of hydrogen by enzymes. The enzymes, called [FeFe]-hydrogenases, efficiently turn electrons ...

New materials for bio-based hydrogen synthesis

August 12, 2013

Researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have discovered an efficient process for hydrogen biocatalysis. They developed semi-synthetic hydrogenases, hydrogen-generating enzymes, by adding the protein's biological ...

Recommended for you

What happened before the Big Bang?

March 26, 2019

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test for inflation, the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into ...

Cellular microRNA detection with miRacles

March 26, 2019

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding regulatory RNAs that can repress gene expression post-transcriptionally and are therefore increasingly used as biomarkers of disease. Detecting miRNAs can be arduous and expensive as ...

Race at the edge of the sun: Ions are faster than atoms

March 26, 2019

Scientists at the University of Göttingen, the Institut d'Astrophysique in Paris and the Istituto Ricerche Solari Locarno have observed that ions move faster than atoms in the gas streams of a solar prominence. The results ...

Physicists discover new class of pentaquarks

March 26, 2019

Tomasz Skwarnicki, professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, has uncovered new information about a class of particles called pentaquarks. His findings could lead to a new understanding ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.