Biodiversity screening and enzyme discovery

Overview

Australia is an island continent with a history of geographical isolation and wide range of extreme environments. While there has been some exploration of this biodiversity, there are many areas of untapped potential for the discovery of novel enzyme functionality. QUT has experience in the identification of novel genes from Australian biodiversity along with methods for high efficiency screening for enzyme function.

Biodiversity screening – aquatic invertebrates

Crustacean analysis at the Banyo Pilot Plant

One promising area for biodiversity exploration is aquatic invertebrates. These animals, including molluscs, crustaceans and worms, are found in many diverse environments across Australia. These environments, including both fresh water and marine, display a wide variety of temperatures, pH, salinity and nutritional conditions. QUT has extensive experience in aquatic invertebrate genomics and transcriptomics. We are interested in further exploring biodiversity in Australian aquatic invertebrates to discover, characterise, and select novel enzymes with industrial potential from various enzyme classes.

Biodiversity screening – extremophile plants

Numerous studies have shown that stress tolerance is genetically encoded. Naturally tolerant species therefore represent an ideal starting point for the search for stress tolerance. As part of their arsenal many resurrection plants encode highly resilient proteins that are stable under extreme environmental conditions, namely, desiccation, salinity and high temperature. QUT has significant experience in the analysis of transcriptome and metabolomics data and have been investigating the molecular stress tolerance mechanisms of the novel Australian resurrection plant, Tripogon loliiformis. We are interested in identifying novel naturally resilient enzymes that remain functional under conditions routinely utilised in industrial scenarios.

Functional enzyme characterisation

The screening of biodiversity and identification of novel gene sequences through genomics and transcriptomics generates a large number of putative enzymes with unknown function. We are developing a bioinformatics approach to pre-select sequences identified from biodiversity screening or from the genomic databases. This approach is based on sequence homology to sequences of known function and characteristics as well as both public and novel approaches to estimate protein stability. To maximise the numbers of enzymes that can be functionally tested, we are using a cell-free expression platform to rapidly integrate genes (as PCR products) from biodiversity screening or synthetic DNA from database screening to produce enzymes for testing in miniaturised micro-titre plate based functional assays. QUT has extensive experience in development and implementation of medium to high-throughput assays for quantitation of enzyme activity and physicochemical characterisation, with a particular focus on enzymes that modify cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.