August 20, 2008

Scientists Create New Catalyst Design Mode

U.S.-led researchers say they have created a new model of catalyst design that challenges current ideas about how catalysts function.

The study also suggests a method for designing new catalysts.

"Catalysts are molecules that speed up chemical reactions without participating in them," the researchers said, noting thousands of industrial and biological processes rely on catalysts. In the human body, enzymes catalyze nearly every reaction.

"The Holy Grail of enzyme catalysis and the ultimate manifestation of understanding this process is the ability to design enzymes," said Professor Arieh Warshel, a University of Southern California professor and co-author of the study.

He said the computational model his team created explains a key aspect of catalyst function and suggests a design strategy based on a theory of electrical attraction. The scientists said a perfect physical fit between catalyst and substrate isn't necessary.

Warshel said the model shows a natural enzyme and an engineered, structurally different counterpart can have the same catalytic power.

The study that included co-author Donald Hilvert of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and postdoctoral associates Maite Roca and Benjamin Messer appears in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.