Combining Pro-peptide Engineering and Multisite Saturation Mutagenesis to Improve the Catalytic Potential of Keratinase

Chang Su, Jin Song Gong, Yu Xin Sun, Jiufu Qin, Shen Zhai, Heng Li, Hui Li, Zhen Ming Lu, Zheng Hong Xu, Jin Song Shi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Keratinases are becoming biotechnologically important since they have shown potential in hydrolysis of recalcitrant keratins with highly rigid and strongly cross-linked structures. However, the large-scale application of keratinases has been limited by the inefficient expression level and low enzyme activity. In this work, we employed pro-peptide engineering and saturation mutagenesis to construct excellent keratinase variants with improved activities. It turned out that amino acid substitutions at the pro-peptide cleavage site (P1) could accelerate the release of active mature enzymes, resulting in a 3-fold activity increase. Eighteen sites of the pro-peptide area were targeted for codon mutagenesis, and a multisite saturation mutagenesis library of the six potential sites was generated, achieving a significant improvement of keratinase activity from 179 to 1114 units/mL. Also, the mutants exhibited alterant catalytic properties. Finally, fermentation for keratinase production in a 15 L fermenter was carried out, and the enzyme activity reached up to over 3000 units/mL. Our results demonstrated that pro-peptide engineering played a crucial role in high expression and engineering of proteases. This study provides a universal route toward improvement of industrial enzymes that were first synthesized as precursors in the form of pre-pro-protein.
Original languageEnglish
JournalA C S Synthetic Biology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)425-433
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Keratinase
  • Expression
  • Pro-peptide engineering
  • Saturation mutagenesis
  • Modification


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