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Making sustainable biotechnology a reality: joined forces aim to improve biocatalysts

Everything biobased: Plastic, medicine and fuel. It seems like a futuristic utopia. But for how long? A collaboration of researchers now proposes an idea to accelerate the development process. By combining machine learning and laboratory automation, this biobased ideal may become a reality rather sooner than later.

Enzymes are the core of biobased production

Biobased products could be as cheap as products made from fossil fuels. However, there is still a way to go. The development of cost-effective biobased processes requires the creation of stable and improved enzymes: biocatalysts that accelerate the production of desired compounds. For bioproducts, enzymes are produced in bacteria, in which DNA is changed to optimise the catalytic function of the enzymes.

AI accelerates enzyme engineering

Unfortunately, it is a slow and labour-intensive process to modify and test improved enzymes using traditional methods. It requires introducing changes in the DNA of the bacteria and then screening which effect this has on enzyme properties. Nowadays, computational tools, especially machine learning, help to expand the possibilities for enzyme engineering.

This can be combined with advances in laboratory automation and genetic engineering, which helps to develop efficient screening methods for engineered enzymes. By relying on this combined approach, enzymes can be engineered faster and more reliably than before.

‘One researcher cannot be an expert in biochemistry, genetic engineering, and machine learning at the same time.’

‘Only collaboration makes it possible to succeed’

The article of the researchers was recently published in Nature Communications. Researcher Lennart Schada von Borzyskowski (Institute of Biology Leiden), a co-author of the study, says: ‘We wrote this paper as a team with specialists from different areas of research, and we think that enzyme engineering will also be teamwork in the future. One researcher cannot be an expert in biochemistry, genetic engineering, and machine learning at the same time. Improving enzymes for sustainable biotechnology is a challenging task, and only collaboration makes it possible to succeed.’

Source: Lennart Schada van Borzyskowksi

The international team includes scientists from the Charité in Berlin (Germany), the Technical University of Denmark, Leiden University (the Netherlands), and the Research Center Jülich (Germany).

Read their complete paper in Nature Communications

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