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Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2000 Jul 3;39(13):2226-2254.

Properties and Synthetic Applications of Enzymes in Organic Solvents.

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Istituto di Biocatalisi e Riconoscimento Molecolare, CNR Via Mario Bianco 9, 20131 Milan (Italy).


Biotransformations already represent an effective and sometimes preferable alternative to chemical synthesis for the production of fine chemicals and optically active compounds. To further widen the versatility of the biological approach, the so-called "nonaqueous enzymology", which now represents an important area of research and biotechnological development, has emerged in the last ten years or so. This new methodology is especially suitable for the modification of precursors of pharmaceutical compounds and fine chemicals, which, in most cases, are insoluble or poorly soluble in water. Even though the idea of carrying out an enzymatic process in organic solvent was initially considered with scepticism, biocatalysis in such media is now investigated and exploited in numerous academic and industrial laboratories. One of the reasons that makes enzymatic catalysis in nonaqueous media so appealing, is the important new properties that enzymes exhibit in organic solvents. For example, they are often more stable and can catalyze reactions that are impossible or difficult in water. Furthermore, enzyme selectivity can also differ from that in water and can change, or even reverse, from one solvent to another. This phenomenon, which can be called "medium engineering", can be exploited as a valid alternative to protein engineering. The first part of this review examines the thermodynamic, kinetic, spectroscopic, and physical approaches that have been adopted to investigate the factors that affect activity, stability, structure, and selectivity of enzymes in organic solvents. These combined studies have brought the understanding of enzyme catalysis in organic solvents to a level almost comparable to that reached for biocatalysis in aqueous media. The second part surveys a number of the synthetic applications of enzymes in organic media, which span from the preparation of milligrams of specifically labeled compounds to the modification of fats on multiton scale and from the preparation of complex key intermediates for the pharmaceutical industry to the synthesis of polymers.


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