Re-Engineering Nature's Catalysts

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Science  18 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6117, pp. 283-284
DOI: 10.1126/science.1233324

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Natural systems have inspired many scientific and technological advances (1). Materials design seeks to duplicate the fiber optical features of glass sponges (2); inorganic chemical complexes are modeled after enzyme active sites; and synthetic chemistry strategies parallel the biosynthetic pathways that produce complex natural product molecules (3). Scientists have also directly manipulated nature's tools through enzyme and metabolic pathway engineering. On page 307 of this issue, Coelho et al. (4) report that a bacterial cytochrome P450—a protein that naturally catalyzes C–H bond oxidation—can be engineered to efficiently produce highly strained cyclopropanated products. This work demonstrates the biomimicry paradigm in reverse, where altering the function of one of nature's most versatile biocatalysts is directed to a transformation originally conceived and implemented by synthetic chemists.