State-of-the-art and future outlook for biocatalysis


1. Dipartimento di Biotecnologie e Scienze della Vita, Università degli Studi dell’Insubria
Via J.H. Dunant 3, 21100 Varese, Italy 
2. The Protein Factory, Politecnico di Milano and Università degli Studi dell’Insubria
Via Mancinelli 7, 20131 Milano, Italy


Enzymes are the most efficient catalysts. In recent years, the number of industrial applications for enzymes has expanded, mainly owing to advances in experimental methods related to their discovery, optimization and application. The product spectrum of today’s bio-based industry mainly focuses on fine chemicals, biofuels, food additives and pharmaceuticals. These products still must compete with the petroleum- or plant-based production methods presently being used; thus, novel processes must be more sustainable and cost efficient. Here, we present current trends and strategies for developing novel biocatalytic processes, mainly based on a simplified transition from laboratory research to industrial production.


Biocatalysis represents the use of natural substances to catalyze chemical reactions. It can be better discriminated into enzyme catalysis when a biocatalyst (an enzyme) is used and whole-cell biotransformations. Enzymes are the most proficient catalysts that can be employed in a variety of processes, more applied than chemical catalysts. Accordingly, in the second half of the last century, enzymes were increasingly being used in synthetic organic chemistry. Nevertheless, their application suffered from major limitations: often the enzymes were not available in sufficient quantities for practical applications and showed a narrow substrate scope, poor stereo- and/or regioselectivity, product inhibition and low stability (under operating conditions). The first obstacle was eliminated with the advent of recombinant DNA technology (in the late 1970s) and the second was tackled by applying directed evolution techniques (in the 1990s).

Indeed, academic and industrial research groups are now increasingly adopting biocatalysis as a tool to synthesize molecules that traditionally have been prepared by employing chemical catalysts. Biocatalysi ...