. Scientific Frontline: Funding for catalyst research

Monday, August 8, 2022

Funding for catalyst research

The teams of Stefan Huber (left) and Dirk Tischler receive funding from the Mercator Research Center Ruhr.
Credit: RUB, Marquard

With a total of around 240,000 euros, the Mercator Research Center Ruhr supports two RUB cooperation projects with its partners of the Ruhr University Alliance.

In order to develop new tools for catalysis, the Mercator Research Center Ruhr (MERCUR) is funding two projects with Bochum participation with a total of around 240,000 euros. The team around Prof. Dr. Dirk Tischler from the Microbial Biotechnology Working Group at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) is developing new bio-building blocks in cooperation with a team from the Technical University (TU) Dortmund, which can be reliably and easily assembled into bio-catalysts. Prof. Dr. Stefan Huber and his working group at the Chair of Organic Chemistry I at RUB are developing new methods for catalysis using halogen bridges together with the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE).

Biocatalysts from the tool case

These catalysts are complex proteins; Genes contain the building instructions for this. Different gene sections contain the building instructions for different protein components. In synthetic biology, researchers produce gene building blocks that can be used for different biocatalysts. These so-called biobricks form a kind of kit from which a catalyst can be put together for a specific purpose. The appropriate gene building blocks are put together and introduced into an organism such as the bacterium E. coli. This translates the gene into proteins with catalytic function.

"An interesting source of biocatalysts are actinobacteria, which contain many genetic elements," says Dirk Tischler. The problem: genes from actinobacteria often contain the molecules guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Such genes with a high G / C content often cannot process other bacteria such as E. coli because their cellular machinery is not designed for this. The functionally interesting gene products of actinobacteria cannot therefore be easily produced by biotechnological workhorses such as E. coli. This is where the RUB and TU Dortmund project comes in. The scientists want to produce biobricks that can be translated into proteins in actinobacteria and thus provide a new toolbox for the synthesis of biocatalysts.

MERCUR supports the project "Combinatorial Expression Systems for Complex Genes - A Toolbox for Efficient Catalyst Identification" with around 100,000 euros. Dirk Tischler's team cooperates with the Dortmund group around Dr. Katrin Rosenthal.

Catalysts with extra ring

The Bochum team led by Stefan Huber has long been interested in the role of halogen bridges in catalysis. Halogen bridges are similar bonds to hydrogen bonds, but much less researched. There are weak interactions between an electron-rich area and a low-electron area on a halogen atom, for example chlorine, bromine or iodine. This type of bond between the catalyst and the substrate occurs in catalysis, i.e. the molecule that is converted from the catalyst to the product. The halogen bridge enables the necessary interaction between the catalyst and the substrate.

A challenge arises from the fact that the products of chemical reactions often arise in two spatial configurations that behave like image and reflection - but as a rule only one of these configurations is desired. The aim of the RUB and UDE project is to provide the catalyst working with halogen bridges with the crucial information - the so-called chiral information - so that only the desired spatial configuration is created.

The researchers use a special construct for this: "We basically lay a ring around the previous catalyst and fix it there with bulky end groups," explains Stefan Huber. “This ring contains the chiral information that causes only one reaction product, but not its reflection, to arise."

MERCUR supports the project "Teaching a new dog new tricks - Asymmetric organocatalysis based on halogen-and chalcogen-bonding" with around 140,000 euros. Stefan Huber's team cooperates with the group of Prof. Dr. Jochen Niemeyer from the UDE.

MERCUR is a facility founded in 2010 by the Mercator Foundation and the universities of Bochum, Dortmund and Duisburg-Essen, which are part of the UA Ruhr. Mercur supports strategic cooperation in the UA Ruhr with various funding programs for joint projects by the three universities in research, teaching and administration.

Source/Credit: Ruhr University Bochum


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