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Improving enzymes by using them in organic solvents


The technological utility of enzymes can be enhanced greatly by using them in organic solvents rather than their natural aqueous reaction media. Studies over the past 15 years have revealed not only that this change in solvent is feasible, but also that in such seemingly hostile environments enzymes can catalyse reactions impossible in water, become more stable, and exhibit new behaviour such as 'molecular memory'. Of particular importance has been the discovery that enzymatic selectivity, including substrate, stereo-, regio- and chemoselectivity, can be markedly affected, and sometimes even inverted, by the solvent. Enzyme-catalysed reactions in organic solvents, and even in supercritical fluids and the gas phase, have found numerous potential applications, some of which are already commercialized.

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Figure 1: Structural modelling of enzymatic transition states.
Figure 2: Schematic representation of the ligand-induced imprinting of the enzyme active site.


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Correspondence to Alexander M. Klibanov.

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Klibanov, A. Improving enzymes by using them in organic solvents. Nature 409, 241–246 (2001).

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