Characterisation of structural and biochemical properties of T. tenax and S. carnosus FBP aldolases, investigating aldol condensation, enantiopurity and the potential for the catalyzation of novel products.

  • Adam Fletcher

Student thesis: Phd


The Morita-Baylis-Hillman (MBH) reaction is a carbon-carbon (C-C) bond forming reaction between an activated alkene and an aldehyde. It is a synthetically useful reaction due to the high atom economy and retention of multiple functional groups. Unfortunately, harsh reaction conditions are required during the MBH reaction and unpredictable product stereospecificity have hampered the widespread application of this reaction.Catalysis of the MBH reaction by enzymes has the potential to allow the reaction to occur at ambient conditions, while offering scope for improving the stereospecificity. This thesis focussed on the enzyme design of a MBH enzyme using thermostable fructose-1,6- bisphosphate (FBP) aldolases as scaffolds. These enzymes were chosen because there are common features between the aldol and MBH reactions, both making use of an enol intermediate to attack the aldehyde. In addition, aldolases typically accept a wide variety of substrates. Thermostable aldolases were selected for increased temperature tolerance creating a more desirable catalyst for industrial purposes.Thermoproteus tenax FBP aldolase (TtFBPA; WT and W144L, W144Y, K177A variants) and Staphylococcus carnosus FBP aldolase (ScFruA) were expressed and purified from E. coli. While the retro-aldol reaction catalysed by these enzymes could be easily monitored, the reverse reaction (aldol synthesis) is more difficult to quantify. Multiple methodologies for high throughput spectrophotometric detection of aldol activity were developed as a method of monitoring constructs made during directed evolution of the FBP aldolases. However, none of these proved successful in robustly determining aldol activity.The dihydroxyacetone phosphate (DHAP) mimic 1-hydroxy-3-buten-2-one phosphate (HBOP) was used to assay for MBH catalysis. While crystallographic studies with TtFBPA suggest that HBOP is bound to W144L TtFBPA in a manner compatible with the MBH reaction. NMR studies could not detect any corresponding activity. This suggests further protein engineering will be required to evolve this FBP aldolase to an MBH catalyst. In addition, our crystallographic and NMR studies with TtFBPA reveals this enzyme is capable of catalysing the formation of both FBP and tagatose-1,6-bisphosphate (TBP).Additionally, we determined the first structure of ScFruA. Interestingly, NMR experiments suggested ScFruA lacks significant control of the stereospecificity of the aldol condensation reaction and appears to catalyse the formation of FBP, TBP, xyluose-1,6- bisphosphate and psicose-1,6-bisphosphate. We conclude that while FPB aldolases could indeed provide useful scaffolds for the development of an MBH catalyst, the enzymes lack any inherent activity, necessitating the need for future creation of variants. The success of this approach will depend on the ability to screen mutant libraries for MBH product formation.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Leys (Supervisor) & Andrew Munro (Supervisor)


  • Aldolase
  • Crystallography
  • Carbon-Carbon bond

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