Current Research | Funded Projects
funding (since 2007)
Beyond Biosynthesis: Enzymes as Catalysts in Non-natural Synthetic Transformations
September 2016 – August 2020 No. 298250
The sustainable manufacture of chemical products through the development of novel and environmentally friendly processes will be a great challenge and an essential goal to be achieved in a post-fossil society. Biological systems with their natural catalysts – the enzymes – provide excellent properties in this regard, however, there still is a wide gap between the chemists' demands and Nature's offer. One major obstacle on the way to a truly bio-based machinery for the production of high-value chemicals is the lack of particular enzymes for a number of crucial chemical transformations. This Academy project aims for the in-depth examination of enzyme activities in important, non-natural reactions. Our results will provide both the tools and the understanding to bring the achievements of more than a century of successful chemical developments into a biological environment, and will serve as a foundation for the creation of novel tailor-made biosynthetic production lines.
Biosynthetic production of complex lactone building blocks utilizing non-natural enzymatic modules
May 2017 – September 2019 NNF17OC0025092
for Dr. Yuchang Liu, Novo Nordisk Fonden
Despite the enormous progress in the field of modern biotechnology, the application breadth of bio-based production platforms compared to classical chemical synthesis still needs to be considered somewhat narrow. This circumstance can in parts be attributed to the simple lack of many synthetically vital transformations in biosynthesis and the consequent lack of particular enzymes to catalyze the desired reactions. In the past years, the Deska group has been active in the identification of synthetically attractive transformations and the development of highly efficient, biocatalytic interpretations therof, making use of the promiscuous catalytic behavior of enzymes. By expanding the biocatalytic portfolio to meet the requirements of modern organic-synthetic strategies for the production of complex target molecules, implementation of these artificial enzymatic modules will lead to new opportunities in the design of biosynthetic cascades. Hence, on the longer run, this approach will allow for the creation of fermentative manufacture strategies of valuable chemical building blocks far beyond the biosynthetically encoded pathways based on abiotic key transformations. This project aims to fine-tune the previously developed enzymatic tools for the Achmatowicz-type ring expansion of biogenic furfuryl alcohols to six-membered O-heterocycles from its current round-bottom flask setup towards a true in vivo application. Moreover, a very recently discovered enzymatic method for the redoxisomerization of the obtained Achmatowicz products will be adapted to be included in complex cascades, opening up a purely biocatalytic pathway from achiral furans to valuable, densely functionalized gamma- and delta-lactones. Based on this cascade design, the incorporation of all required enzymes into bacterial hosts will serve as a first proof-of-concept to demonstrate the potential of artificial enzyme modules applied in the in vivo production of synthetic building blocks and natural products.
MOCCA: Molybdenum Catalysts for C1-Carbon Valorisation
January 2019 – January 2020 No. 324976
in collaboration with PD Dr. Martin Prechtl, University of Cologne, Germany
Hydrogen-rich small molecules - the so-called small liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC) - are discussed as promising energy storage materials en route to a modern post-fossil society. Among them, methanol, as prominently advocated by Nobel laureate George Olah, is potentially playing a highly important role combining an excellent hydrogen capacity with the opportunity to create a carbon-neutral circular economy. The development of smart methods for the activation of bio-derived LOHCs at ambient temperature represents therefore a crucial goal. The H2.BIO project aims to create an out-of-the-box solution for the generation of hydrogen gas from aqueous methanol. Based on a multidisciplinary bioinspired approach combining enzyme and metal catalysis to overcome the obstacles of traditional catalytic strategies, we recently presented the first proof-of-principle study allowing for the hydrogen production via room temperature methanol reforming. The H2.BIO concept, a joint research project between the University of Cologne, Germany, and Aalto University, Finland, will provide new tools for the LOHC activation and enable the design of visionary bio-driven hydrogen fuel cells.
CEVALOR: Cellular Factories for the Valorization of Biorefinery Chemicals
September 2019 – August 2022 No. 324854
Biological production platforms for the manufacture of chemical products pose a highly attractive solution en route to a bioeconomy-based society. Here, environmentally benign and resource-efficient conditions are characteristic features of microbial cellular factories and the tools of modern biotechnology permit the effective fine-tuning of these green reactors. Based on the recent development of novel enzymatic modules in the Aalto group of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, we envision the design and implementation of new biosynthetic pathways that will allow to address classical synthetic strategies for the valorization of biorefinery-derived furans. Exploiting the power of interdisciplinary approaches bridging classical chemistry with the life sciences, CEVALOR will enable the creation of sustainable, fermentative manufacturing strategies towards intermediates in the production of fragrances, pharmaceuticals, and bio-derived polymer precursors from non-fossil raw materials.