New study to resurrect enzymes billions of years old

27 March 2017

Members of the international Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), which seeks to support frontier research in the life sciences, include organisations all over the world. Three-year Program Grants for 2017 have been awarded for a total of 30 projects. One of the two grants to Sweden is to Uppsala University, for a project aimed at boosting our understanding of evolution at molecular level.

Calls for applications were issued for two categories of research funding: Young Investigator Grants and Program Grants. In response to a total of 1,073 applications in 2017, 9 Young Investigator Grants and 21 Program Grants were approved.

The three-year grants support international teams of researchers from at least two countries. One purpose of the grants is to enable awardees to expand their horizons in collaboration with their international colleagues.

Lynn Kamerlin of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Uppsala University, says: “I’m one of two Swedes to be awarded a Program Grant, which is absolutely great. The project is international and I’ll be working with José Manuel Sanchez Ruiz at the University of Granada, Eric Gaucher at Georgia Tech and Burckhard Seelig at the University of Minnesota.”

Kamerlin’s project addresses the biochemical properties of enzymes.
“Enzymes are proteins that behave like catalysts, speeding up biochemical reactions. Without these proteins life would be impossible, since they regulate every life function. You can also use enzymes outside the cell, as catalysts for a whole range of industrial processes, from designing new drugs to creating biofuels,” she relates.

“In this project, our aim is to resurrect ancient enzymes – some are billions of years old – to study their biochemical properties. Then we’ll manipulate them and teach them to catalyse completely new reactions. The studies will deepen our understanding of how evolution works at molecular level and how to make brand-new enzymes for industrial purposes.”

Read more about the research grants at the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) website.