Very happy to see our new preprint on BioRxiv today.
Enzymes are great for making chemicals - and using chemicals in this way (biocatalysis) supports multibillion dollar industries and delivers complex medicines to our healthcare systems. Unfortunately some enzymes don't work well in continuous flow - a type of chemistry that offers better control and safety for the operators and can reduce the environmental footprint of chemical manufacturing processes. This is because some enzymes need cofactors to work - small molecules (like NAD and ATP) that are used by enzymes to carry out their chemical reactions. In the cell these cofactors are recycled after use so they can be used over and over, but in a flow reactor they're swept away and can't be reused (making the process very expensive!). That's where our new nanomachines come in!
We've developed a new engineering approach for making enzymes that keep hold of their cofactors and recycle them (we call the enzymes nanomachines). The design principles are modular, so new nanomachines can be quickly designed and tested. Reactors containing these nanomachines can be linked together to make cascades of reactions, so that complex molecules can be built from simple starting materials. We call these cascading reactors 'nanofactories'.
This was a collaborative project between biochemists, organic chemists, flow chemists and host of others from CSIRO Land & Water (including myself, Andrew Warden and Carol Hartley), CSIRO Manufacturing (including Charlotte Williams, Judy Scoble, Andrea North and Quentin Churches) and the University of Manchester (the Turner Group). The work was funded by CSIRO and the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.