Although nature evolves its catalysts over millions of years, enzyme engineers try to do it a bit faster. Enzyme active sites provide highly optimized microenvironments for the catalysis of biologically useful chemical transformations. Consequently, changes at these centers can have large effects on enzyme activity. The prediction and control of these effects provides a promising way to access new functions. The development of methods and strategies to explore the untapped catalytic potential of natural enzyme scaffolds has been pushed by the increasing demand for industrial biocatalysts. This Review describes the use of minimal modifications at enzyme active sites to expand their catalytic repertoires, including targeted mutagenesis and the addition of new reactive functionalities. Often, a novel activity can be obtained with only a single point mutation. The many successful examples of active-site engineering through minimal mutations give useful insights into enzyme evolution and open new avenues in biocatalyst research.
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