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Synthetic nicotinamide cofactors for new and improved biocatalytic processes

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Artificial helper molecules for chemical reactions

Chemists have outperformed nature by mimicking biological systems that speed up chemical reactions. These artificial biocatalysts work better than their natural counterparts – i.e. more cheaply and under milder conditions.


Many chemical and pharmaceutical products are made using expensive and environmentally damaging precious metal catalysts that initiate and speed up chemical reactions. As greener alternatives, chemists are looking to the chemistry of living things for biological catalyst systems. These biocatalysts typically consist of an enzyme coupled with helper molecules called cofactors that help enzymes to do their job. There are several drawbacks to using biocatalyst systems however, such as contaminating enzymes or molecules that result in unwanted side reactions. To avoid contaminants, the desired enzyme and cofactor need to be highly purified, an expensive and time-consuming process. The EU-funded project BIOMIMIC (Synthetic nicotinamide cofactors for new and improved biocatalytic processes) used a natural cofactor called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) as a basis for designing a synthetic, improved version. This man-made nicotinamide cofactor analogue (mNAD) mimics the natural NAD structure, with modifications for improved activity. Having created various versions of mNAD, researchers analysed how well they worked with an enzyme catalyst commonly used by industrial chemists. They then modified selected mNAD molecules so that they worked with other industrially useful enzymes. The mNAD synthetic analogues developed by BIOMIMIC are currently being used by academic and industrial chemists worldwide as better alternatives to natural cofactors. A major chemical company has already commercialised one of these analogues, highlighting their potential for creating industrial products in an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly process.


Chemical reactions, biocatalysts, enzyme, cofactor, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide

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