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Evolutionary Biotechnology – "Directed Evolution" of Biocatalysts

Enzymes are biocatalysts that are ideally suited for arranging sustainable and environmentally acceptable manufacturing processes. Chemical reactions that are catalyzed by enzymes usually work at low temperature and normal pressure yielding the desired product with high selectivity. Biotransformations using enzymes not only are employed in research but are increasingly important in the production of fine chemicals. Robustness in industrial production and acceptance of non-natural substrates are significant criteria when designing the application of enzymes for organic syntheses. The majority of enzymes that is currently being used has microbial origin and shows much better performance than homologous enzymes from plants and animals. In past years, very robust enzymes have been isolated from extremophilic microorganisms.

A powerful alternative to isolating enzymes from natural sources exists with tuning enzyme function to desired substrates or process conditions using "directed evolution". This approach essentially employs the mechanisms nature has developed for generating new, or optimized function – diversification (mutation) of genetic material, selection of appropriate properties, and propagation (amplification) of selected progeny. Mutation, selection and amplification can be achieved on the laboratory time scale by employing reactions or procedures from the method repertoire of molecular biology and genetics.

We apply strategies of directed evolution to a range of enzymes useful for biotechnological and diagnostic applications, such as synthesis of nucleic acids from non-natural substrates or therapeutic manipulation of viral genomes ("error-prone polymerases").

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Cover of "Directed Molecular Evolutionof Proteins"
(S. Brakmann, K. Johnsson, Eds.),
Wiley-VCH, ISBN 3-527-30423-1.
Cover of "Evolutionary Methods in Biotechnology"
(S. Brakmann, A. Schwienhorst, Eds.),
Wiley-VCH, ISBN 3-527-30799-0.