8 November 2017

New laboratory at Copenhagen Plant Science Centre will investigate a recently discovered group of enzymes


Scientist at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at the University of Copenhagen has received DKK 35 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, for research into a class of enzymes that play a central role – for good and bad - in nature. The project builds on research results that were recently published in Nature Communications.

Researchers at Copenhagen Plant Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen will study a new class of enzymes that play a crucial role in the conversion of materials that are difficult to degrade, for instance cellulose. So far, the enzymes have been investigated in the laboratory and in industry, but now researchers will investigate the function of the enzymes in nature. Illustration Henning Dalhoff.

In the HOPE project (Harnessing the oxidative power of enzymes) scientists will investigate a new class of enzymes called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases or LPMOs. These enzymes are important for converting biological material such as cellulose that is not easily degraded, into biofuels and chemicals.

With the help of copper, the LPMOs can "cut” a hole in the cellulose allowing other enzymes to access the material and release the sugar in the biomass. The LPMO enzymes are already commercially used today for instance for converting plant waste into bioethanol.

In nature, these enzymes are produced by many different microorganisms, and data suggest that microorganisms, which cause a number of plant diseases, use an entire arsenal of LPMOs.

Establishing a new laboratory

A key element of the project involves establishing the Laboratory of Oxidative Enzymology at the Copenhagen Plant Science Centre. The laboratory will include unique facilities with equipment to work under oxygen-free conditions. It will also include a dedicated area for work with potentially pathogenic organisms.

The HOPE project builds on the research of associate professor Katja S. Johansen, parts of which were recently published in an article in Nature Communication. The publication describes how LPMO can use different mechanisms to cleave polysaccharides - carbohydrates that consist of more than 10 sugar molecules.

"A deeper understanding of the function of LPMOs has the potential to be of major importance in agronomy, pharmacology and biotechnology," explains associate professor Katja S. Johansen from Department of Geoscience and Nature Management at the University of Copenhagen, who is responsible for the HOPE project.

Collaboration between universities

The project is a partnership between three departments at the University of Copenhagen - Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (hosting the Copenhagen Plant Science Centre) and Department of Chemistry – as well as two Novo Nordisk Foundation Centers - Center for Protein Research at the University of Copenhagen and Center for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark. Katja S. Johansen from Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management is the grant recipient.

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is a Danish business foundation whose history dates back to 1923. Since 2012 the foundation has granted more than 10 billion DKK primarily for research at public knowledge institutions and hospitals in Denmark and the other Nordic countries.

Read more

Read the publication in Nature Communication.

Read an article about enzymatic degradation of polysaccharides in Dansk Kemi, page 23 (in Danish).

Read more about the HOPE project on the project webpage.