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Current Opinion in Chemical Biology
Vol. 31, 2016, Pages: 136–145

Applications of microbial cytochrome P450 enzymes in biotechnology and synthetic biology

Hazel M Girvan, Andrew W Munro

Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM), Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester, 131 Princess Street, Manchester M1 7DN, UK.


Cytochrome P450 enzymes (P450s) are a superfamily of monooxygenase enzymes with enormous potential for synthetic biology applications. Across Nature, their substrate range is vast and exceeds that of other enzymes. The range of different chemical transformations performed by P450s is also substantial, and continues to expand through interrogation of the properties of novel P450s and by protein engineering studies. The ability of P450s to introduce oxygen atoms at specific positions on complex molecules makes these enzymes particularly valuable for applications in synthetic biology. This review focuses on the enzymatic properties and reaction mechanisms of P450 enzymes, and on recent studies that highlight their broad applications in the production of oxychemicals. For selected soluble bacterial P450s (notably the high-activity P450-cytochrome P450 reductase enzyme P450 BM3), variants with a multitude of diverse substrate selectivities have been generated both rationally and by random mutagenesis/directed evolution approaches. This highlights the robustness and malleability of the P450 fold, and the capacity of these biocatalysts to oxidise a wide range of chemical scaffolds. This article reviews recent research on the application of wild-type and engineered P450s in the production of important chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and drug metabolites, steroids and antibiotics. In addition, the properties of unusual members of the P450 superfamily that do not follow the canonical P450 catalytic pathway are described.


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