• Centre for Synthetic Biology

    Enzyme Design for Carbohydrate Synthesis


    The Unit for Enzyme and Carbohydrate Technology (ENCA) of the UGent Centre for Synthetic Biology focuses on the conversion of renewable resources (plant biomass) into special sugars and derivatives. Healthier products with improved properties are needed but their synthesis is often challenging and a hurdle for further exploitation. To solve this problem, we create tailor-made enzymes by state-of-the-art engineering techniques to combine strict selectivity with maximal stability. The ultimate goal always is to develop sustainable processes with minimal impact on the environment. To that end, different enzyme classes are recruited, from hydrolases and transferases to isomerases and oxidoreductases. I hope you enjoy exploring this website and look forward to hearing from you.


    Prof. dr. Tom Desmet


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    Carbohydrate Biotechnology

    Healthier ingredients - Improved properties - Product analysis


    Sugars have gained somewhat of a bad reputation in recent years, because of their contribution to the growing obesitas pandemic. However, many carbohydrates and derivatives are essential for human health and can find application in a wide range of industrial sectors. The type of products that we are working on include prebiotics (functional oligosaccharides), low-caloric sweeteners (stevia), pharmaceuticals (L-sugars), nutraceuticals (resveratrol glycosides) and anti-oxidants (glycosylated flavonoids). We create new enzymes and pathways, and perform a throrough analysis of the products.



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    Biocatalytic Synthesis

    Enzyme technology - Green chemistry - Industrial applications


    In various industries, enzymes are increasingly used as efficient biocatalysts to perform a wide range of chemical reactions. Indeed, biocatalysis can offer significant performance benefits compared to conventional chemistry, including higher reaction rates, stricter (enantio)selectivity and improved product purity. Furthermore, enzymes are active under mild conditions and are fully biodegradable, making them ideal tools in the field of green chemistry. We often collaborate with partners who wish to introduce an enzymatic step (lipases, ketoreductases, nitrilases) in their synthetic pathway.




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    Enzyme Engineering

    Rational design - Computational analysis - Directed evolution


    Natural enzymes are not always perfectly suited for industrial applications, as they might not be stable under process conditions or display low activity on alternative substrates. Fortunately, these properties can be efficiently optimized through enzyme engineering. To identify hotspots for mutagenesis, both the structure (homology modelling, ligand docking) and the sequence (motifs, conservation, correlation) of a protein are first explored in silico. Libraries of enzyme variants are then created in vitro and screened for activity with a robotic platform. In that way, we can succeed in optimizing an enzyme’s specificity and/or stability in about one year time.



  • TEAM

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    Prof. dr. Tom Desmet

    Group Leader (PI)


    Tom Desmet received a doctorate from Ghent University (2005) for elucidating structure-function relationships in (hemi)cellulases. After a postdoctoral stay at Wageningen University, he was appointed Associate Professor at the Centre for Synthetic Biology (2011), where he heads the Unit for Enzyme and Carbohydrate Technology. He has supervised 35 doctoral students and 7 postdocs, and teaches enzyme-related courses at the universities of both Ghent and Antwerp. He has (co)authored more than 130 peer-reviewed papers and was the overall coordinator of the collaborative projects 'SuSy' (EC/FP7) and 'GlycoProFit' (FWO/SBO). He was invited speaker at leading conferences in the field of biocatalysis (Biocat & Biotrans) as well as carbohydrates (CBM & EuroCarb), and has organized the 4th Novel Enzymes Conference (2014) and the 15th Carbohydrate Bioeengineering Meeting (2024).


    Click here for a full CV.

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    Dr. Koen Beerens

    Epimerases and SDR enzymes

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    Dr. Jorick Franceus

    Enzyme evolution and design

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    Dr. Shari Dhaene

    Industrial liason

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    Elke Debackere


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    Marc De Doncker

    Oligo- and polysaccharides

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    Emma De Beul

    Glycoside phosphorylases

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    Carlos Alvarez

    Carbohydrate epimerases

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    Alex Windels

    Chitin valorization

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    Ulrike Vogel

    SDR enzymes

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    Jolien Lormans

    Evolution of phosphorylases

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    Manon Steynen

    Sugar analogues

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    Arthur Leyder

    Glucose isomerases

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    Hélène Defrancq

    Carbohydrate epimerases

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    Yentl Allaert

    Glycosidic osmolytes



    A regional project of strategic basic research (FWO/SBO) that aims to explore alternatives sugars for food applications. It brings together experts in enzyme technology, microbial digestion, human metabolism, and food formulations. Some of the companies that are involved include Cargill, Lotus, Inex and Damhert.



    Our newest European project (EC/H2020) that aims to establish a platform technology for the conversion of sucrose into functional glycosides, such as the cosmetic ingredient glucosyl glycerol. It brings together 8 academic and industrial partners from 5 different countries, and is coordinated by our long-time collaborator Prof. Nidetzky from TU Graz.



    This bilateral project with Austria (FWO/FWF) aims to design new epimerases for the direct conversion of common monosaccharides into rare sugars (e.g. D-glucose to L-idose), some of which find application as building blocks for pharmaceuticals (e.g. anti-viral drugs). To maximize the yields, small synthetic pathways are constructed in an approach known as systems biocatalysis.



    We are open for other collaborations and offer these specific areas of expertise:

    - enzyme production and characterization (kinetics, modeling, docking)

    - enzyme engineering by means of rational design and directed evolution

    - enzyme immobilization for prolonged use and increased stability

    - carbohydrate biotechnology and analysis (HPAEC-PAD ad colorimetric)





    Centre for Synthetic Biology
    Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University

    Coupure Links 653, BE-9000 Ghent, Belgium

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    Building B, 2nd floor





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    +32 (0)9 264 9920