Enzymes are biological catalysts that enable a complex network of fast and well-regulated chemical reactions inside the living cell. The catalytic performance of enzymes is remarkable. Thus, they offer an unparalleled ability to accelerate reactions and an extreme degree of selectivity. These properties combined with the fact that enzyme catalysis generally occurs under mild conditions and with a small environmental footprint, make enzyme reactions attractive for technical applications in general and the transition towards sustainable industries in particular. However, conditions in industrial processes are typically far from the natural conditions the enzyme was evolved for, and this challenges enzyme stability and performance.
In the Westh group we engineer enzymes to better cope with industrial conditions and hence make them more valuable as biological alternative to conventional catalysts. Our starting point is naturally occurring enzymes that are identified either through different screening approaches or bioinformatic searches in databases of known enzymes. We re-engineer the natural enzymes through mutagenesis and select new molecules with desired properties. Currently, our work includes enzymes that degrade different types of plastic and hence allows waste recycling. In the CORC project we will re-design enzymes for carbon capture. This includes engineering enzymes that promote the conversion of gaseous CO2 into soluble carbonate, and its integration with other technologies that activates and utilizes the captured carbon.