Greening Chemical Production with Earthworm Powder, Millipedes

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The need for more sustainable manufacturing processes is compelling researchers to find renewable replacements for traditional catalysts.

In China, Yan-Hong He and others at the Southwest University of Chongqing are using ground-up earthworms as a source of serine proteases. They found that the earthworm powder was as effective as commercially available lumbrokinase in producing isoquinuclides—heterocyclic molecules used as chemical intermediates. Natural catalysts are “safe, accessible, economical, and environmentally benign,” He tells Chemical and Engineering News.

In Japan, Yasuhisa Asano is extracting hydroxynitrile lyase from Asian millipedes to replace industrial versions of enzymes sourced from almonds in cyanohydrins production.

“The discovery of millipede hydroxynitrile lyase and the porcine and snake oxidases can serve as a template both for the isolation of promising and efficient enzymes and the design of improved tailor-made enzymes by rational protein engineering,” Asano says. He is also working with natural catalysts from pig kidneys and western diamondback rattlesnake.