For the first time ever, a completely man-made chemical enzyme has been successfully used to neutralise a toxin found naturally in fruits and vegetables.
While studying for her PhD in chemistry at the University of Copenhagen Dr. Jeannette Bjerre showed how a novel so-called chemzyme was able to decompose glycoside esculin, a toxin found in horse-chestnuts.
Proof of concept for artificial enzymes
Chemzymes are designed molecules emulating the targeting and efficiency of naturally occurring enzymes and the recently graduated Dr. Bjerre is pleased about her results.
"Showing that these molecules are capable of decomposing toxins required vast amounts of work and time. But it's been worth every minute because it proves the general point that it's possible to design artificial enzymes for this class of task", explains Bjerre.
Simple molecules performing complex tasks
Most people know enzymes as an ingredient in detergents. In our bodies enzymes are in charge of decomposing everything we eat, so that our bodies can absorb the nutrients. But they also decompose ingested toxins, ensuring that our bodies survive the encounter.
In several important aspects artificial enzymes function in the same way as naturally occurring ones. But where natural enzymes are big and complex, the artificial ones have been pared down to the basics.
The flat-nosed plier of the molecular world
One consequence of this is that designing chemzymes for targeted tasks ought to be easier. With fewer parts, there's less to go wrong when changing the structure of chemzymes. And for enzymes as well as for their artificial counterparts even small changes in structure will have massive consequences for functionality.
In this, enzymes are very much like hand-tools, where scissors and flat nosed pliers, though almost identical, have very different duties.
Hardwearing replacement enzymes'/>"/>
|Contact: Jes Andersen|
University of Copenhagen