Finding Nemo - high-throughput enzyme design

// 30.04.2018

The third LRC Summer School took place in Halle/Saale.

The third summer school for young scientists of the LRC took place from April 24th to 27th, 2018, in Halle/Saale. The organisation was taken over by Junior Professor Martin Weissenborn's team at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB).

The LRC junior research group "Biobricks of Plant Biosyntheses" in Halle/Saale, headed by Junior Professor Martin Weissenborn, is investigating new possibilities for the biotechnological production of naturally occurring compounds from plants such as phenylpropanoid derivatives (flavonoids, coumarins), which have a high economic potential for the food and perfume industry, but also for use in technical areas such as coumarin derivatives in dye lasers. Genome mining, the analysis of the genome of a microorganism, is used to find hidden genes which can then be expressed in other easily cultivatable organisms which, at best, reveal previously unknown synthesis pathways for novel molecules.

In addition to this method, the young scientists from the five junior research groups were able to experience the so-called "Directed Evolution in the Laboratory" up close. The targeted mutagenesis and subsequent high-throughput screening for optimized enzymes is reminiscent of the search for a tiny fish in the expanses of an ocean, but is a modern technique that is becoming increasingly attractive, especially for the design of active ingredients for industrial and biotechnological applications. The necessary steps from the cultivation of the bacterial cells to the analysis of the enzyme activity were carried out by the participants themselves in the laboratory. Using methods like multi-injection gas chromatography and UV absorption, they detected changes in protein activity, such as carbonyl olefination or hydroamination, due to the mutations. These two activities represent important reactions in organic synthesis chemistry. They also learned about a protein quantification system based on a sophisticated fluorescent labelling technique.

For the biotechnologist Tony Köhler from the IPF Dresden it was important to get to know the bioinformatic evaluation of the extensive data sets generated by this type of experimental design: "With the newly acquired knowledge I will automate the data evaluation in my own doctoral thesis project."

For the chemist Dr. Ute Münchberg from ISAS in Dortmund, it was instructive and interesting to experience first-hand the practical work of other subjects. This is exactly what the summer school offers to the different groups of the LRC. "You usually only have a vague idea of what the others are doing and how this works. I found it very exciting to learn how time-consuming it really is to optimize an enzyme, for example," enthuses Dr. Münchberg. " I was particularly impressed by the precision with which even seemingly simple tasks, such as pipetting, have to be performed, so that the deviations between the repeated measurements do not become too large and mask the true effect." By the way, research results were discussed and solutions sought during the day, but also during social gatherings in the evening. The LRC Summer School also offered Dr. Münchberg, who has only been supporting Erik Freier's team for six months, the opportunity to get to know all project partners. "It's something else whether you only know each other from e-mails or phone calls or whether you meet in person," Münchberg said. For the future, she hopes that other interdisciplinary projects will also offer such an exchange as an opportunity to broaden her own horizons.

In the run-up to the SummerSchool, all junior research group leaders and postdocs met to plan concrete further work steps and handovers and to implement the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Board.

The next summer school will take place at the Leibniz Institute for Polymer Research (IPF) in Dresden from April 2nd to 5th, 2019, directly following the Leibniz Conference on Bioactive Compounds of the Leibniz Research Alliance Bioactive Compounds and Biotechnology. Participants will learn about the production of microfluidic flow cells using photolithography and 3D printing with a focus on reactive surface design and microemulsions as well as the design of multifunctional polymers and hydrogels for cell-free biotechnology.

Source of photographs: Michelle Kammel (IPB Halle/Saale)

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