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Biocatalysts and Biosurfactants: Harnessing Biology for Green Chemistry

Biocatalysts and Biosurfactants
Reported by
Sarah Webb

Posted July 15, 2008

In nature, bacteria and other microbes construct a variety of specialized molecules to adapt to different environments. Among these molecules are enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions for various cellular purposes. In addition, microbes synthesize biosurfactants, secondary metabolites that are involved in quorum sensing, adhesion, and solubilizing carbon sources, such as hydrocarbons, that are not bioavailable under other circumstances.

Chemists have realized that enzymes and biosurfactants, honed by evolution, can also be a useful tool in many chemical processes. At the May 21, 2008, meeting of the Green Science & Environmental Policy Discussion Group, Alex Zaks of Schering-Plough and Birgit Kosjek of Merck discussed how biocatalysis can speed up production, lower costs, save energy, and generate high quality pharmaceutical products. Raina Maier of the University of Arizona gave an overview of biosurfactants. While these molecules are powerful tools in bioremediation, they also have potentially important applications in medicine and in the prevention of agricultural diseases.

Web Sites

Dow Chemical provides a list of literature references on biocatalysis.

C&EN Cover Story: Biocatalysis
Chemical and Engineering News featured a cover story about biocatalysis.

Jeneil Biosurfactant Company
Jeneil Biosurfactant Company website.

Nature Insight: Biocatalysis
This Nature Insight on Biocatalysis offers perspectives from several researchers.

Rhamnolipid biosurfactant fact sheet
EPA factsheet on Rhamnolipid biosurfactant.

Journal Articles

Birgit Kosjek

Kosjek B, Stampfer W, Pogorevc M, et al. 2005. Purification and characterization of a chemotolerant alcohol dehydrogenase applicable to coupled redox reactions. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 86: 55-62.

Kosjek B, Stampfer W, van Deursen R, et al. 2003. Efficient production of raspberry ketone via 'green' biocatalytic oxidation. Tetrahedron 59: 9517-9521.

Stampfer W, Edegger K, Kosjek B, Faber K, Kroutil W. 2004. Simple biocatalytic access to enantiopure (S)-1-heteroarylethanols employing a microbial hydrogen transfer reaction. Adv. Synth. Catal. 346: 57-62.

Stampfer W, Kosjek B, Kroutil W, Faber K. 2005. On the organic solvent and thermostability of the biocatalytic redox system of Rhodococcus ruber DSM 44541. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 81: 865-869.

Stampfer W, Kosjek B, Faber K, Kroutil W. 2003. Biocatalytic oxidative kinetic resolution of sec-alcohols: stereocontrol through substrate-modification. Tetrahedron Asymmetry 14: 275-280.

Stampfer W, Kosjek B, Faber K and Kroutil W. 2003. Biocatalytic asymmetric hydrogen transfer employing Rhodococcus ruber DSM 44541. J. Org. Chem. 68: 402-406.

Raina Maier

Ochoa-Loza FJ, Noordman WH, Jannsen DB, et al. 2007. Effect of clays, metal oxides, and organic matter on rhamnolipid biosurfactant sorption by soil. Chemosphere 66: 1634-1642.

Saini HS, Barragán-Huerta BE, Lebrón-Paler A, et al. 2008. Efficient purification of the biosurfactant viscosin from Pseudomonas libanensis strain M9-3 and its physicochemical and biological properties. Journal of Natural Products; ASAP article (online preprint).

Lebrón-Paler A, Pemberton JE, Becker BA, et al. 2006. Determination of the acid dissociation constant of the biosurfactant monorhamnolipid in aqueous solution by potentiometric and spectroscopic methods. Anal. Chem. 78: 7649-7658.

Alex Zaks

Homann MJ, Vail R, Morgan B, et al. 2001. Enzymatic hydrolysis of a prochiral 3-substituted glutarate ester, an intermediate in the synthesis of an NK1/NK2 dual antagonist. Adv. Synth. Catal. 343: 744-749.

Suen WC, Zhang N, Xiao L, et al. 2004. Improved activity and thermostability of Candida antarctica lipase B by DNA family shuffling. Protein Eng. Des. Sel. 17: 133-140. FULL TEXT

Zaks, A. 2001. Applied biocatalysis in specialty chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Drug Discov. Today 6: 669-670.

Zaks A. 2001. Industrial biocatalysis. Curr. Opin. Chem. Biol. 5: 130-136.


Birgit Kosjek, PhD

e-mail | publications

Birgit Kosjek completed her Masters degree in chemistry at the University of Graz in Austria in 1999, followed by her PhD in chemistry with a focus on biocatalysis with Kurt Faber. Following completion of her PhD in 2003, she joined Merck as a senior research chemist in biocatalysis.

Raina Maier, PhD

University of Arizona
e-mail | web site | publications

Raina Maier works in the Soil, Water, and Environmental Science Department at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on the study of microbial surfactants, the ability of bacteria to survive in harsh environments and how their survivability is influenced by wetting and drying cycles in those environments. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry at the University of Minnesota and her PhD in microbiology at Rutgers University. After postdoctoral research at Iowa State University, she began her independent career at the University of Arizona in 1988.

Alex Zaks, PhD

e-mail | publications

Alex Zaks is currently a development fellow and the head of Chiral Technology at Schering-Plough. He earned his PhD in biotechnology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the co-chair of the 2008 Gordon Conference on Biocatalysis.