Engineering new catalytic activities in enzymes
The efficiency, selectivity and sustainability benefits offered by enzymes are enticing chemists to consider biocatalytic transformations to complement or even supplant more traditional synthetic routes. Increasing demands for efficient and versatile synthetic methods, combined with powerful new discovery and engineering tools, has prompted innovations in biocatalysis, especially the development of new enzymes for precise transformations or ‘molecular editing’. As a result, the past decade has witnessed an impressive expansion of the catalytic repertoire of enzymes to include new and useful transformations not known (or relevant) in the biological world. In this Review we illustrate various ways in which researchers have approached using the catalytic machineries of enzymes for new-to-nature transformations. These efforts have identified genetically encoded catalysts that can be tuned and diversified by engineering the protein sequence, particularly by directed evolution. Discovery and improvement of these new enzyme activities is opening a floodgate that connects the chemistry of the biological world to that invented by humans over the past 100 years.