Filling the Void: Introducing Aromatic Interactions into Solvent Tunnels To Enhance Lipase Stability in Methanol

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2018 Nov 15;84(23):e02143-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02143-18. Print 2018 Dec 1.


An enhanced stability of enzymes in organic solvents is desirable under industrial conditions. The potential of lipases as biocatalysts is mainly limited by their denaturation in polar alcohols. In this study, we focused on selected solvent tunnels in lipase from Geobacillus stearothermophilus T6 to improve its stability in methanol during biodiesel synthesis. Using rational mutagenesis, bulky aromatic residues were incorporated to occupy solvent channels and induce aromatic interactions leading to a better inner core packing. The chemical and structural characteristics of each solvent tunnel were systematically analyzed. Selected residues were replaced with Phe, Tyr, or Trp. Overall, 16 mutants were generated and screened in 60% methanol, from which 3 variants showed an enhanced stability up to 81-fold compared with that of the wild type. All stabilizing mutations were found in the longest tunnel detected in the "closed-lid" X-ray structure. The combination of Phe substitutions in an A187F/L360F double mutant resulted in an increase in unfolding temperature (Tm ) of 7°C in methanol and a 3-fold increase in biodiesel synthesis yield from waste chicken oil. A kinetic analysis with p-nitrophenyl laurate revealed that all mutants displayed lower hydrolysis rates (kcat), though their stability properties mostly determined the transesterification capability. Seven crystal structures of different variants were solved, disclosing new π-π or CH/π intramolecular interactions and emphasizing the significance of aromatic interactions for improved solvent stability. This rational approach could be implemented for the stabilization of other enzymes in organic solvents.IMPORTANCE Enzymatic synthesis in organic solvents holds increasing industrial opportunities in many fields; however, one major obstacle is the limited stability of biocatalysts in such a denaturing environment. Aromatic interactions play a major role in protein folding and stability, and we were inspired by this to redesign enzyme voids. The rational protein engineering of solvent tunnels of lipase from Geobacillus stearothermophilus is presented here, offering a promising approach to introduce new aromatic interactions within the enzyme core. We discovered that longer tunnels leading from the surface to the enzyme active site were more beneficial targets for mutagenesis for improving lipase stability in methanol during biodiesel biosynthesis. A structural analysis of the variants confirmed the generation of new interactions involving aromatic residues. This work provides insights into stability-driven enzyme design by targeting the solvent channel void.

Keywords: biodiesel; lipase; organic solvents; protein engineering; solvent tunnel; stability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biocatalysis
  • Biofuels / analysis
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Enzyme Stability
  • Geobacillus stearothermophilus / chemistry
  • Geobacillus stearothermophilus / enzymology*
  • Geobacillus stearothermophilus / genetics
  • Hot Temperature
  • Kinetics
  • Lipase / chemistry*
  • Lipase / genetics
  • Lipase / metabolism
  • Methanol / chemistry*
  • Methanol / metabolism
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Mutagenesis
  • Solvents / chemistry
  • Solvents / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Biofuels
  • Solvents
  • Lipase
  • Methanol