CHEMISTS at the University of Michigan have created a novel, synthetic, three-stranded molecule that functions just like a natural metalloenzyme, or an enzyme that contains metal ions.
Enzymes are found in the cells of all animals, plants, and every other living organism, they accelerate the chemical reactions that trigger thousands of biological functions—from forming neurons to digesting food.
They perform their jobs so selectively and so quickly—millions of times faster than a blink of the eye—that the field of biomimetic chemistry has emerged over the past few decades with the goal of designing artificial enzymes that can mimic the powers of natural enzymes in industrial settings. Artificial enzymes could, for example, convert corn into ethanol or help create new drugs more quickly, cheaply, and effectively.
According to Rajeev Prabhakar, a computational chemist at the University, “It wasn’t clear that they could be made, but we made them. And, then we used them to successfully catalyze reactions,” said Prabhakar, a professor of chemistry who studies enzyme reactions in hopes of designing their artificial analogues. “This is an incremental but important step in the development of artificial enzymes, which has long been considered chemistry’s holy grail. Unfortunately, as good as natural enzymes work in our bodies and other life forms, they don’t tolerate other settings very well. They’re also very expensive and not easy to prepare and purify.”
“Our techniques are different, but complimentary,” Prabhakar said. “What we do the Pecoraro group cannot do, and what they do, we cannot do. We model molecules on the computer so we can predict their structural properties and the mechanism of their formations. They use our models to build the real thing, and in this case that is the first example of a natural heterotrimeric molecule.”