Directed evolution of functional proteins has arguably emerged as an approach to protein engineering that can complement or better design-led approaches to protein function. However, as a random process, enormous numbers of variants have to be screened and selected to have a chance to identify successful catalysts. This process is costly and cumbersome: Industrial screening facilities require investment of tens to hundred of millions of dollars.
In the context of ERC StG “ChemBioMech” key steps towards conducting quantitative biological experiments in a much cheaper format (with higher throughput) have been made. Screening of individual library members in monodisperse oil-in-water compartments ('microdroplets’) that are generated in microfluidic devices has been shown to be possible. The droplet compartment constitutes a link between a given phenotype and its encoding genotype. By capturing reaction product the droplet provides a unique system to screen for catalysis.
This application is to exploit the commercial potential of a screening system of unprecedented capacity for directed evolution of enzymes that will be attractive for the biotech industry. To implement proof-of principle experiments we have teamed up with two leading industrial partners, to develop and validate the technology by implementing droplet-based selections for relevant industrial problem.
Based on interactions with Cambridge Enterprise (the technology transfer office of Cambridge University) that have led to the filing of one patent, we continue to explore the IP landscape, expand ongoing interaction with potential licensees and conduct a marketing study. Finally we will develop a training module to facilitate uptake of this technology in different settings.
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