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Almac, UCL Co-developing Metagenomics, Enzyme Discovery Tools

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Almac today said that its biocatalysis group and University College London will jointly work on a project to develop tools aimed at metagenomics and novel enzyme discovery.

The project is part of a UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council program, and the work will be carried out by Almac and UCL's departments of Biochemical Engineering and Chemistry.

Almac said that biocatalysis technology is increasingly being used in the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries. The only limitation of biocatalysis, Almac said, is in the "number of diverse enzymes in a given enzyme class." Microbial sources make up the majority of enzymes used in biocatalysis, but only a fraction of 1 percent of bacteria present in environmental samples can be cultured and isolated.

Metagenomics, however, can be used to work around this problem, and previous efforts at UCL have allowed metagenomes to be obtained from various sources. Bioinformatics tools developed by researchers at the university "will allow the metagenomes … to be mined for enzymes usable in both synthetic chemistry and synthetic biology projects," Almac said.

Tom Moody, head of Biocatalysis & Isotope Chemistry at Almac, said that the project announced today will concentrate on transaminase and cytochrome P450 enzymes.

"We will identify, clone, and express these enzymes before carrying out extensive screening against panels of 'typical' pharmaceutical and fine chemical substrates," he said. "This should enable us to identify novel and commercially useful enzyme biocatalysts. As a follow-on step, directed evolution at Almac will enable further development of the lead enzymes concerned."

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