Contributed by Darwin Bandoy, DVM
I am completely amazed to find somebody working for the same company for more than twenty years, considering my own experience of changing employment several times within the last ten years. So Novozymes must be doing something exciting to motivate employees to stay for decades. The most exciting part for me is when the speaker showed diverse environments where they hunt for microbes with unusual and interesting enzymatic properties. Since Nature has different environments like oceans and deep forests, microbes evolved different modes of adoption thru enzyme production. So I would describe this as the Indiana Jones mode of Novozymes. But when Indiana Jones finds a treasure, the division gets tricky. Fortunately, Novozymes honors the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity, which stipulates fair sharing of the benefits derived from the commercialization of genetic diversity. While Nature has a diverse library of microbes and enzymes, they can still be improved to meet specific uses and purposes of customers. This next phase still employs an Indiana Jones mode of treasure hunting, but instead of exotic places, the genome is the map and the work is done bioinformatically using algorithms. Hence, a person who wants to be a genome treasure hunter needs to acquire data science skills. The speaker emphasized this as a core skill that is always in demand and is always in need for biotech companies.
So what’s a typical day for an Indiana Jones enzyme hunter in Novozymes? The case provided is the improvement of staleness in bread using maltogenic alpha-amylase that inhibits retrogradation of amylopectin. They can choose to do initial screening with their 60,000 microbes preserved in nitrogen tanks to screen for amylase activity, or do this using genome mining if the microbes are already sequenced to search for genes encoding for amylase (this is where the bioinformatics skill enter). Once enzyme activity is confirmed, several modes of improvement are done to enhance thermal stability and optimize pH (which is the case for Novamyl thermostable-amylase). A protein can be modified using a long-term engineered design or random mutagenesis. Both modes are used extensively by Novozymes which just shows that even how hard you design something, random and chance still yields totally unpredictable results (which is also crucial in patenting strategy as surprising and unexpected are the most used words in patent applications). Novozymes seems to have not only discovered the key to designing wonderful enzymes but long-term relationships, intentionally crafted with ample legroom for random surprising events.