Almac and University College London team up on metagenomics

R&D work will be carried out jointly between Almac and the departments of Biochemical Engineering and Chemistry at UCL, focused specifically on metagenomics and novel enzyme discovery

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CRAIGAVON, U.K. and LONDON—Northern Ireland-based Almac's biocatalysis group has secured what it call "a prestigious"  UK Biotechnologyand Biological Sciences Research Council program with University College London (UCL) focusedon metagenomics and novel enzyme discovery.
The research and developmentwork under the deal will be carried out jointly between Almac and thedepartments of Biochemical Engineering and Chemistry at UCL, "with high-level input from two world leaders in the field of biocatalyst discoveryand application, Professors John Ward and Helen Hailes," Almac says.
"This clearly adds further depth to our expertise andcomplements our recent collaboration with DSM in accessing diverseenzyme collections,"
said Dr.Tom Moody, Almac's head of Biocatalysis & Isotope Chemistry.  

"We are very excited to continue working with Almac onthis prestigious project, building on many years of collaboration andpartnership. Indeed, this project will see our internal capabilitiesfurther developed with true industrial needs in our vision," added Ward.
Theapplication of biocatalysis technology to the pharmaceutical and finechemical industries is continuing to grow year on year and this trend ismirrored in the increasing number of synthetic projects being carriedout by the biocatalysis group in Almac, the company says.
As Almac puts it, "Theonly limitation of biocatalysis is in the number of diverse enzymesavailable in a given enzyme class, which dictates both the substraterange and the stereoselectivity observed for a desired chemicaltransformation. The majority of enzymes used in biocatalysis are derivedfrom microbial sources. However, it is known that only a tinypercentage (as low as 0.1% from soil samples) of bacteria present in anenvironmental sample can be cultured and isolated."
Reportedly, metagenomics,a culture-independent technique used to extract the total DNA from anenvironment, can circumvent this problem and allow access up to 99 percent ofenzyme genes present in environmental samples. Work previously carriedout at UCL has allowed a series of metagenomes to be obtained from"various unusual sources," as Almac puts it.
The use of bioinformatic tools developed byWard with Prof. Christine Orengo of the Structural and MolecularBiology department at UCL will allow the metagenomes concerned to bemined for enzymes usable in both synthetic chemistry and syntheticbiology projects.
"The need for more diverse enzymes has never beengreater and this research programme further emphasises Almac'scommitment to UK research and to biocatalysis development," Moody said.
"The project will mainly focus on transaminase and cytochrome P450senzymes. We will identify, clone and express these enzymes beforecarrying out extensive screening against panels of 'typical'pharmaceutical and fine chemical substrates. This should enable us  toidentify novel and commercially useful enzyme biocatalysts. As thefollow-on step, directed evolution at Almac will enable furtherdevelopment of the lead enzymes concerned."
SOURCE: Almac news release

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