Promiscuous enzyme could be lignin-busting breakthrough

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In the United Kingdom, researchers at the University of Portsmouth have developed a new, “promiscuous” enzyme that can convert plant waste into fuel, nylon, plastics and chemicals.

The cytochrome P450 enzyme—which is called promiscuous because it will work on a wide range of molecules—breaks down lignin, one of the main components of plants but a notoriously difficult material to convert.  “To protect their sugar-containing cellulose, plants have evolved a fascinatingly complicated material called lignin that only a small selection of fungi and bacteria can tackle,” says Professor McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth. “However, lignin represents a vast potential source of sustainable chemicals, so if we can find a way to extract and use those building blocks, we can create great things.”

The study was published in Nature Communications.