Evolution of a highly active and enantiospecific metalloenzyme from short peptides

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Science  14 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6420, pp. 1285-1288
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau3744

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Evolution trains a from-scratch catalyst

Metal-bound peptides can catalyze simple reactions such as ester hydrolysis and may have been the starting point for the evolution of modern enzymes. Studer et al. selected progressively more-proficient variants of a small protein derived from a computationally designed zinc-binding peptide. The resulting enzyme could perform the trained reaction at rates typical for naturally evolved enzymes and serendipitously developed a strong preference for a single enantiomer of the substrate. A structure of the final catalyst highlights how small, progressive changes can remodel both catalytic residues and protein architecture in unpredictable ways.

Science, this issue p. 1285


Primordial sequence signatures in modern proteins imply ancestral origins tracing back to simple peptides. Although short peptides seldom adopt unique folds, metal ions might have templated their assembly into higher-order structures in early evolution and imparted useful chemical reactivity. Recapitulating such a biogenetic scenario, we have combined design and laboratory evolution to transform a zinc-binding peptide into a globular enzyme capable of accelerating ester cleavage with exacting enantiospecificity and high catalytic efficiency (kcat/KM ~ 106 M−1 s−1). The simultaneous optimization of structure and function in a naïve peptide scaffold not only illustrates a plausible enzyme evolutionary pathway from the distant past to the present but also proffers exciting future opportunities for enzyme design and engineering.

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