Manfred T. Reetz receives the first BioTrans Senior Award for his past and current contributions to the directed evolution of selective enzymes as catalysts in organic chemistry and biotechnology.

July 20, 2017

The award ceremony took place in Budapest on July 14th at the 13th International Symposium on Biocatalysis and Biotransformations. The photo shows Reetz (rechts) together with Prof. Frank Hollmann (Delft University/Netherlands), who won the Junior Biotrans Award, and who was a postdoc at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim 2004-2005. Reetz is the first scientist to receive the newly established Senior Award. The BioTrans Symposium is held every two years in a different city around the world. The text of the certificate states: “The BioTrans Permanent Steering Committee’s highest honor for biocatalysis and biotransformation excellence to recognize outstanding life time activity in synthetic biotransformations which contributed to the recognition of biocatalysis community and the quality of life by development of greener processes.”

Actually Reetz did not turn to biocatalysis until 1995 at the age of 52. Two years later he published a seminal paper in the journal Angewandte Chemie describing for the first time the concept of directed evolution of stereoselective enzymes as catalysts in organic chemistry. It mimics natural evolution by going through recursive cycles of gene mutagenesis, expression and screening for stereoselectivity. In each cycle “evolutionary pressure” is built up which the researcher relies on, quite different from the development of chiral homogeneous transition metal catalysts or organocatalysts. This Darwinian approach to stereoselective catalysis (evolution in the test-tube) has been implemented many times in industrial applications, especially in the pharmaceutical industry.

The well established and continually growing field of directed evolution is reviewed in the recently published monograph: M. T. Reetz, Directed Evolution of Selective Enzymes: Catalysts for Organic Chemistry and Biotechnology, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2016.

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