The combination of computational design and laboratory evolution is a powerful and potentially versatile strategy for the development of enzymes with new functions1-4. However, the limited functionality presented by the genetic code restricts the range of catalytic mechanisms that are accessible in designed active sites. Inspired by mechanistic strategies from small-molecule organocatalysis5, here we report the generation of a hydrolytic enzyme that uses Nδ-methylhistidine as a non-canonical catalytic nucleophile. Histidine methylation is essential for catalytic function because it prevents the formation of unreactive acyl-enzyme intermediates, which has been a long-standing challenge when using canonical nucleophiles in enzyme design6-10. Enzyme performance was optimized using directed evolution protocols adapted to an expanded genetic code, affording a biocatalyst capable of accelerating ester hydrolysis with greater than 9,000-fold increased efficiency over free Nδ-methylhistidine in solution. Crystallographic snapshots along the evolutionary trajectory highlight the catalytic devices that are responsible for this increase in efficiency. Nδ-methylhistidine can be considered to be a genetically encodable surrogate of the widely employed nucleophilic catalyst dimethylaminopyridine11, and its use will create opportunities to design and engineer enzymes for a wealth of valuable chemical transformations.
1. Juni 2019