On September 1st, 2021 Enzymares kicked off. The project is a collaboration between the UGent research groups the Blue Growth Research Lab (BGRL, coordinator), Laboratory of Microbiology (LM), Laboratory of Protistology and Aquatic Ecology (PAE) and the research group Laboratory of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Genomics (LBEG) from KU Leuven. EMBRC-BE acted as facilitator to set up the Enzymares consortium. The project is supported by three Flemish spearhead clusters: Catalisti, Blauwe Cluster and Flanders’ FOOD.

Enzymes everywhere

Enzymes are ubiquitous. They are used in fine and specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and (aqua)feed products, textiles, cosmetics, and so many more industrial applications. As they are non-toxic and biodegradable, enzymes are an attractive alternative to chemical additives or catalysts. In fact, enzymatic catalysis has the potential to make industrial processes cleaner as well as more resource- and energy-efficient, thereby contributing to a more sustainable industry.

Given their wide array of applications and their sustainable profile, it’s no surprise that the global demand for enzymes is growing rapidly. Specifically, the hunt is on for new or better performing enzymes in terms of substrate selectivity, inhibition sensitivity, chiral selectivity, pH and temperature range. There is also an increased focus on enzyme performance in extreme conditions (e.g. high salt tolerance, hyper-thermostability, barophilicity, cold adaptivity).

Several sources…

Luckily, biological resources, and particularly marine environments, offer an enormous opportunity for enzyme exploration. Moreover, while current research has focused on tapping enzymes from microbial organisms, more complex eukaryotic organisms may represent yet another untapped reservoir of discovery.

 

… but difficult to discover

Tapping this reservoir and finding the right enzymes is, however, not straightforward. Today, most new enzymes are found through high-throughput functional screenings of genomic libraries and a comparison with biological databases.

Once interesting enzymes have been identified, their performance in industrial applications is assessed. This assessment can take years and, even then, the majority of enzymes identified through the screening process proves not to be particularly useful. In short, finding the right enzymes is extremely time-consuming and resource-demanding, slowing down their valorisation and application.

Optimising the enzyme discovery pathway

Enzymares will develop an enzyme prediction toolbox to speed up enzyme discovery and reduce the time-to-market for new enzymes. One that integrates and includes different types of molecular data, ecological information, process parameters as well as performance needs, this way increasing the chances of success in the enzyme discovery pathway. Furthermore, by exploring the diversity of enzymes in more complex organisms, such as micro-algae, a “new world” of previously unknown enzymes may become available for valorisation by the industry and may expand the application potential of enzymatic catalysis in industrial processes.

If you are interested as well, please contact the coordinator Prof. Jana Asselman (Jana.Asselman@UGent.be).

Project partners

Ghent University:

  • Blue Growth Research Lab (BGRL): prof. dr. ir. Jana Asselman, project coordinator
  • Laboratory of Microbiology (LM): prof. dr. Bart Devreese
  • Laboratory of Protistology and Aquatic Ecology (PAE): prof. dr. Koen Sabbe

Ghent University – VIB:

  • Laboratory of Comparative Network Biology (CNB): prof. dr. Klaas Vandepoele

KU Leuven:

  • ESAT - STADIUS: prof. dr. ir. Bart De Moor
  • Computational Systems Biology (CSB): prof. dr. Vera Van Noort
  • Laboratory of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Genomics (LBEG): prof. dr. Filip Volckaert
  • Laboratory of Food Chemistry and Biochemistry (LFCB): prof. dr. ir. Christophe Courtin

Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) - dr. ir. Karel De Winter

Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) - dr. ir. Heleen De Wever

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