Multi-talented enzyme – produced on large-scale

Enzymes remove spots from our laundry, whiten paper and help with brewing beer. To wit: They facilitate many industrial processes. In many cases, enzymes are obtained from fruits. However, if the harvest is poor, this might lead to shortfalls. Researchers therefore designed a process to produce enzymes microbiologically. A multifunctional facility now opening in Leuna should help with adapting these new processes to an industrial scale.

Papayas are delicious and healthy – and they contain papain, an enzyme that is isolated from the fruit and used in countless industries. They are used for brewing beer, the handling of meat products, the treating of wool in the textile industry and the treating of inflammation in the medical field. A similar example is represented by horseradish: Its enzyme – horseradish peroxidase – is used in large quantities in several diagnostic and immunological tests. But the harvest varies dramatically from year to year. When the harvest is poor, then horseradish peroxidase is no longer available in quantities that the industry needs.

For this reason, the researchers within the ''Innozym'' project at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart are designing pathways to manufacture enzymes using biotechnology with the aid of microorganisms.

The advantage: No matter how the harvest turns out, enzymes can always be sufficiently produced. In addition, the scientists are also creating entirely new enzymes that are intended to replace chemical catalysts. These could make it possible to run industrial operations at lower temperatures and thereby save energy.

They could also reduce the usage of process chemicals, such as those used to modulate pH values. In the laboratories, the researchers are producing the enzymes in reaction vessels that can hold a maximum of 30 liters. In the factory, by contrast, the production reactions for enzymes actually start at 10,000 litres. However, one cannot simply apply the same production steps that work for small batches of enzymes to large batches.

Even though researchers at the lab could, for example, add expensive substances, this would make large-scale production economically infeasible.