April 23, 2008

Designer Enzymes

Posted in Articles of Interest, Biochemistry tagged , , , at 10:01 am by D. Borst

Harnessing the power of enzymes for commercial reactions is one of the ultimate Holy Grails of synthetic chemistry. It looks like its achievement may have come one step closer. Head on over to Biosingularity for the report on how Kendall Houk of UCLA has begun to make the first successful prototypes of such molecules.

I got to listen to Dr. Houk speak at PSU in February. He is doing some pretty cool organic chemistry intensive stuff, way over my head. But essentially what they did was use quantum mechanical models of the transition state for the reaction they wanted to catalyze, and designed an active site which would stabilize that active site. This is coherent with the transition state stabilization model of enzymatic catalysis. Instead of using amino acids and proteins, they were using complex organic molecules which would do the same things that amino acids would.

This challenge is straightforward, if not simple, in theory. We have the theories to predict all chemical reactions. What we don’t have is the processing power to do the incredibly complex calculations that arise because of the theory. The art of the science is to develop shortcuts and assumptions that will allow one to simplify the calculations to the point where they can be done.