In biocatalysis, enzymes are used for a wide range of chemically relevant reactions, as these natural catalysts are able to catalyze a very wide range of syntheses under mild reaction conditions. Particularly advantageous is the chemo-, regio- and stereoselectivity of enzymes, which allows the desired products to be produced with high (optical) purity. This means that, compared to chemical processes, toxic reagents such as heavy metals, protective group chemistry and, in most cases, organic solvents can be eliminated, making biocatalytic processes more environmentally friendly.
While historically natural enzymes were isolated from microorganisms, plants and animal extracts, modern biological methods allow the desired enzyme to be produced recombinantly on an industrial scale, e.g. in the bacterium E. coli or the yeast S. cerevisiae. Protein engineering also allows enzymes to be specifically adapted to the requirements of an industrial process through rational protein design (based on the spatial structure of the enzyme) or directed evolution (Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018). Biocatalysis is technically used for the production of fragrances and flavors, in the food industry, in organic synthesis, oleochemistry, and especially for the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients and their precursors on a large scale. Enzymes (proteases, amylases, cellulases, lipases) are also used in detergents as biocatalysts to remove soiling under mild conditions and also make a significant contribution to environmental protection here.