Most discussions of biotech center around medical uses. Though agricultural uses also attract considerable attention and, especially in Europe, considerable opposition. However, there are plenty of potential industrial applications. A major category of applications is the use of enzymes to catalyze complex reactions for which there are no conventional catalysts. One major reason that this category of biotechnology hasn't taken off more rapidly is that enzymes break down fairly easily. However, some recent research results from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory brighten the prospects for industrial applications of enzymes as these scientists have developed a method of using nanotech particles to stabilize enzymes to last for months.
RICHLAND, Wash. — Enzymes, the workhorses of chemical reactions in cells, lead short and brutal lives. They cleave and assemble proteins and metabolize compounds for a few hours, and then they are spent.
This sad fact of nature has limited the possibilities of harnessing enzymes as catalytic tools outside the cell, in uses that range from biosensing to toxic waste cleanup.
To increase the enzyme's longevity and versatility, a team at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., has caged single enzymes to create a new class of catalysts called SENs, or single enzyme nanoparticles. The nanostructure protects the catalyst, allowing it to remain active for five months instead of hours.
"The principal concept can be used with many water-soluble enzymes," said Jungbae Kim, PNNL senior scientist who described the feat here today at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
"Converting free enzymes into these novel enzyme-containing nanoparticles can result in significantly more stable catalytic activity," added Jay Grate, PNNL laboratory fellow and SENs co-inventor.
Nanotech particle stabilized enzymes could be used to for cleaning up toxic waste sites or for breaking down toxins that are continually produced by industrial processes. They could also be used to keep a wide variety of surfaces (including places within human bodies) from accumulating an assortment of types of crud and undesirable material.
Among the uses Kim noted for SENs is the breakdown toxic waste-a single treatment could last months. Stabilized enzymes are also a prerequisite for many types of biosensors. And they may be of interest for coating surfaces, with application ranging from medicine (protecting implants from protein plaques) to shipping (keeping barnacles off hulls). PNNL is investigating several other applications in the environmental and life sciences.
A way to stablize enzymes increases the value of discovering enzymes which have different forms of activity. So this advance is likely to spur searches through all manner of species to find enzymes for a variety of specific industrial and medical purposes.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2004 April 02 10:57 AM Nanotech for Biotech|