Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemical Engineering


David R Shonnard


Sachin Pannuri


The production by biosynthesis of optically active amino acids and amines satisfies the pharmaceutical industry in its demand for chiral building blocks for the synthesis of various pharmaceuticals. Among several enzymatic methods that allow the synthesis of optically active aminoacids and amines, the use of minotransferase is a promising one due to its broad substrate specificity and no requirement for external cofactor regeneration. The synthesis of chiral compounds by aminotransferases can be done either by asymmetric synthesis starting from keto acids or ketones, and by kinetic resolution starting from racemic aminoacids or amines.

The asymmetric synthesis of substituted (S)-aminotetralin, an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), has shown to have two major factors that contribute to increasing the cost of production. These factors are the raw material cost of biocatalyst used to produce it and product loss during biocatalyst separation. To minimize the cost contribution of biocatalyst and to minimize the loss of product, two routes have been chosen in this research: 1. To engineer the aminotransferase biocatalyst to have greater specific activity, and 2. Improve the engineering of the process by immobilization of biocatalyst in calcium alginate and addition of cosolvents.

An (S)-aminotransferase (Mutant CNB03-03) was immobilized, not as purified enzyme but as enzyme within spray dried cells, in calcium alginate beads and used to produce substituted (S)-aminotetralin at 50 °C and pH 7 in experiments where the immobilized biocatalyst was recycled. Initial rate of reaction for cycle 1 (6 hr duration) was determined to be 0.258 mM/min, for cycle 2 (20 hr duration) it decreased by ~50% compared to cycle 1, and for cycle 3 (20 hr duration) it decreased by ~90% compared to cycle 1 (immobilized preparation consisted of 50 mg of spray dried cells per gram of calcium alginate). Conversion to product for each cycle decreased as well, from 100% in cycle 1 (About 50 mM), 80% in cycle 2, and 30% after cycle 3. This mutant was determined to be deactivated at elevated temperatures during the reaction cycle and was not stable enough to allow multiple cycles in its immobilized form.

A new mutant aminotransferase was isolated by applying error-prone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the gene coding for this enzyme and screening/selection: CNB04-01. This mutant showed a significant improvement in thermostability in comparison to CNB03-03. The new mutant was immobilized and tested under similar reaction conditions. Initial rate remained fairly constant (0.2 mM/min) over four cycles (each cycle with a duration of about 20 hours) with the mutant retaining almost 80% of initial rate in the fourth cycle. The final product concentrations after each cycle did not decrease during recycle experiments. Thermostability of CNB04-01 was much improved compared to CNB03-03.

Under the same reaction conditions as stated above, the addition of co-solvents was studied in order to increase substituted tetralone solubility. Toluene and sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS) were used. SDS at 0.01% (w/v) allowed four recycles of the immobilized spray dried cells of CNB04-01, always reaching higher product concentration (80-85 mM) than the system with toluene at 3% (v/v) -70 mM-. The long term activity of immobilized CNB04-01 in a system with SDS 0.01% (w/v) at 50 °C, pH 7 was retained for three cycles (20 to 24 hours each one), reaching always final product concentration between 80-85 mM, but dropping precipitously in the fourth cycle to a final product concentration of 50 mM. Although significant improvement of immobilization on productivity and stability were observed using CNB04-01, another observation demonstrated the limitations of an immobilization strategy on reducing process costs. After analyzing the results of this experiment it was seen that a sudden drop occurred on final product concentration after the third recycle. This was due to product accumulation inside the immobilized preparation. In order to improve the economics of the process, research was focused on developing a free enzyme with an even higher activity, thus reducing raw material cost as well as improving biomass separation.

A new enzyme was obtained (CNB05-01) using error-prone PCR and screening using as a template the gene derived from the previous improved enzyme. This mutant was determined to have 1.6 times the initial rate of CNB04-01 and had a higher temperature optimum (55°). This new enzyme would allow reducing enzyme loading in the reaction by five-fold compared to CNB03-03, when using it at concentration of one gram of spray dried cells per liter (completing the reaction after 20-24 hours). Also this mutant would allow reducing process time to 7-8 hours when used at a concentration of 5 grams of spray dried cells per liter compared to 24 hours for CNB03-03, assuming that the observations shown before are scalable. It could be possible to improve the economics of the process by either reducing enzyme concentration or reducing process time, since the production cost of the desired product is primarily a function of both enzyme concentration and process time.