A roadmap to directed enzyme evolution and screening systems for biotechnological applications
Enzymes have been long used in man-made biochemical processes, from brewing and fermentation to current industrial production of fine chemicals. The ever-growing demand for enzymes in increasingly specific applications requires tailoring naturally occurring enzymes to the non-natural conditions found in industrial processes. Relationships between enzyme sequence, structure and activity are far from understood, thus hindering the capacity to design tailored biocatalysts. In the field of protein engineering, directed enzyme evolution is a powerful algorithm to generate and identify novel and improved enzymes through iterative rounds of mutagenesis and screening applying a specific evolutive pressure. In practice, critical checkpoints in directed evolution are: selection of the starting point, generation of the mutant library, development of the screening assay and analysis of the output of the screening campaign. Each step in directed evolution can be performed using conceptually and technically different approaches, all having inherent advantages and challenges. In this article, we present and discuss in a general overview, challenges of designing and performing a directed enzyme evolution campaign, current advances in methods, as well as highlighting some examples of its applications in industrially relevant enzymes.