Functional Imaging: Atomic Force Imaging using probes functionalized with modified enzymes.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


Keeping things clean requires large amounts of energy, everyone on the planet uses energy to keep cloths clean and this puts a huge demand on the environment. Current cleaning detergents are a complex chemical and biological components, but in terms of their cleaning composition but can broadly be considered to contain (i) surfactants to solubilise fabric-based stains; (ii) enzymes to digest stains and (iii) bleaches to degrade and increase the hydrophillicity of coloured stains. In this project we use an atomic force microscope to study how individual enzymes digest stains. The atomic force microscope will measure the interaction strength between an enzyme and an oil surface. Once we have an understanding of this process we will use this knowledge to modify the enzymes in order to allow them to work at lower temperatures. These modified enzymes will be studied using the atomic force microscope under the conditions the enzymes would face in a typical washing cycle, this will allow us to further improve the efficiency of the enzyme.

Planned Impact

The outcomes of this project will be beneficial for a wide range of groups. Techniques developed through out this proposal will be of use for researchers who wish to interrogate a surface through chemical or biological interactions. This will likely have implications in a wide range of academic and industrial investigations in to the interactions between a reagent and a surface. The project is co-funded with P&G and many of the project outcomes will directly benefit P&G areas of interest. For example interactions between proteins and surface dominate many industrial processes, the techniques and knowledge developed in this proposal will be of use to the detergent industry (A multi billion pound industry) and also to the food and cosmetics industry. Using the techniques developed in the proposal it should be possible to fine-tune the interactions between proteins and surfaces. However, the possibly impact of this research is more far reaching than academic and industrial scientists. Even a small reduction in the water temperature used for cleaning would greatly reduce the energy requirements of washing and therefore reduce the environmental load. Further to this any improvement in enzyme efficiency would greatly impact the lives of women in developing countries, reducing the work load of washing in these countries will greatly improve the quality of live for billions of people. What will be done to ensure that they benefit from this research? Glasgow and Sheffield have active and supportive Innovation Units, Glasgow Research and Enterprise and Sheffield's knowledge transfer Unit aims to access knowledge transfer funding and industrial partnerships, that generate commercial advantage and enhance economic & social impact through deliver and provides assistance in exploiting any potentially commercialisable discoveries within the university through patenting, licensing and creating spin-off companies. The University has an excellent portfolio of patents and patent applications. The technology, in close collaboration with QMI business development manager. Most importantly in this project, the involvement of P&G in the research provides an ideal place within the project to transfer the technology to the commercial sector. Both Sheffield and Glasgow have been awarded EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Awards (KTA) and the partnership between P&G and the EPSRC KTA scheme should give any commercial applicable science the greatest opportunity of commercial success.


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Description This work studied the conditions needed to improve enzyme interaction with substrates. Enzymes are critical in industrial processes and the enzymes studied in this work were used in washing clothes. By studying the interaction of single enzymes with a substrate we were able to optimise the conditions needed for current enzymes but we were also able to test new enzymes. This allows us to create washing systems which require less energy to be effective.
Exploitation Route This work is very important for those designing new enzymes for industrial processes.
Sectors Chemicals,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description The work in this project was used to investigate the use of novel enzymes in low-temperature cleaning products. The findings are of use to people developing novel cleaning systems, this work was done in conjunction with a company.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Chemicals
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Andor 
Organisation Andor Technology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have worked closely with Andor over a number of years. We have helped them informally process data and given them an understanding of the application of their technologies to the Bio-Physics community. I have spent time at Andor as part of an Industrial Sabbatical.
Collaborator Contribution Andor have provided us with extra cameras when needed and also given a couple of extra cameras to us.
Impact I have spent time at Andor as part of an Industrial Sabbatical.
Start Year 2009
Description P&G 
Organisation Procter & Gamble
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This partnership was part of the sandpit challenge from the EPSRC. We used atomic force microscopy to study the interaction strength of a multitude of enzymes with fatty acids.
Collaborator Contribution The partner gave us training in the application of detergents to household cleaning and provided monies to enable us to perform the work. This was done through the Sandpit event.
Impact We characterised the effectivity of novel enzymes for cleaning.
Start Year 2011