UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering


UCL Biochemical Engineering research on cover of Biotechnology & Bioengineering

1 February 2018

Researchers at UCL Biochemical Engineering, led by Prof Nicolas Szita, together with Prof John Ward, and Prof Helen Hailes (UCL Chemistry), and in collaboration with researchers from the Instituto Superior Técnico, led by Prof Fernandes, present a microfluidic approach towards the automated and continuous synthesis of chiral amino alcohols from simple starting materials. The research was also part of an EU initial training network programme EuroMBR (European network for innovative microbioreactor applications in bioprocess development.

Chiral amino alcohols are useful building blocks and synthons for a range of different small molecule drugs. In this article, their synthesis using a cascade of enzyme-catalysed reactions is described, making use of the compartmentalisation and control of the different reaction environments afforded by microreactors. The enzyme cascade had previously been studied by the BiCE project for which UCL was awarded the Rita and John Cornforth Award of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2010. UCL Biochemical Engineering has a long standing with the journal of Biotechnology and Bioengineering and this cover image is a reminder of the successes of this department and its upcoming 20th Anniversary celebrations.


Gruber P, Carvalho F, Marques MPC, et al. Enzymatic synthesis of chiral amino-alcohols by coupling transketolase and transaminase-catalyzed reactions in a cascading continuous-flow microreactor system. Biotechnology and Bioengineering. 2018;115:586–596. https://doi.org/10.1002/bit.26470

The authors gratefully acknowledge the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions, Multi-ITN) of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), for funding Pia Gruber's (Grant Number 608104, EuroMBR project) and Filipe Carvalho (SFRH/74818/2010) PhD studentships, respectively, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC, BB/L000997/1).