Our fossil fuel reserves are limited. When they run out, we will not only be lacking in fuel, but chemical industry will lose its most important feedstock. In contrast, natural gas has barely been used as a raw material.
If it were possible to efficiently convert methane, the main component of natural gas, into chemically useful materials like methanol, we would gain some time to make the transition to alternative sources of raw materials. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Manfred T. Reetz and a team at the Max Planck Institute for Carbon Research in Mülheim (Germany) have now introduced a new approach for the enzymatic production of methanol from methane. Their secret is the inclusion of an inert guest in the enzyme’s binding pocket in order to make it smaller so that it can effectively bind methane.
Methanol is a useful starting material for many chemical syntheses, and it can also be added to conventional fuels to drive fuel cells. Conventional processes for producing methanol from methane involve detours (synthesis gas), are markedly complex and energy intensive, and require high temperatures and pressures. Nature, on the other hand, has a much more elegant route: the enzyme methane monooxygenase does the job gently and efficiently. Unfortunately this is a very complex enzyme that cannot easily be produced and used in an artificial environment. The cytochrome P450 (CYP) family of enzymes could represent an alternative starting point. The main job of these enzymes is the oxidation of various substances produced by the body or introduced to it. In the reaction, carbon–hydrogen bonds are oxidized to make alcohol groups (–OH). The active component of these enzymes is a heme, an iron–porphyrin complex similar to that in our hemoglobin.
The problem is that the binding pocket of this enzyme is just too big to snugly bind and oxidize small molecules such as methane. Instead of trying to devise complex methods to create a suitable enzyme, Reetz and his co-workers came up with a clever trick: chemically “tuning” a CYP enzyme. The scientists added an additional guest into the binding pocket in order to make it smaller.
The natural substrates for CYP enzymes are fatty acids. As a guest molecule, the researchers chose a compound that resembles a fatty acid, a carbonic acid in which all of the hydrogen atoms in the hydrocarbon chain have been replaced with fluorine atoms. This type of molecule is as water-repellent as the original, but takes up more room. The fluorine atoms make it chemically inert so that it does not participate in any reactions. Like the molecule it is modeled on, this guest is able to bring the iron–heme complex of the enzyme into its catalytically active state (high-spin state). The significantly smaller binding pocket now allows methane to bind effectively so that it can be oxidized to methanol.
Says Reetz: “The road to success is still far for a technical implementation, yet, the concept opens up new perspectives for the development of further reactions, such as the oxidation of other chemical compounds.”
Author: Manfred T. Reetz, Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr (Germany), http://www.kofo.mpg.de/manfred-reetz.html
Title: Tuning a P450 Enzyme for Methane Oxidation
Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Permalink to the article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.201006587
New application for acoustics helps estimate marine life populations
16.01.2018 | University of California - San Diego
Unexpected environmental source of methane discovered
16.01.2018 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
17.01.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
17.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
17.01.2018 | Awards Funding