Glycosynthases have become efficient tools for the enzymatic synthesis of oligosaccharides, glycoconjugates and polysaccharides. Enzyme-directed evolution approaches are applied to improve the performance of current glycosynthases and engineer specificity for non-natural substrates. However, simple and general screening methods are required since most of the reported assays are specific for each particular enzyme. In the present paper, we report a general screening assay that is independent of enzyme specificity, and implemented in an HTS (high-throughput screening) format for the screening of cell extracts in directed evolution experiments. Fluoride ion is a general by-product released in all glycosynthase reactions with glycosyl fluoride donors. The new assay is based on the use of a specific chemical sensor (a silyl ether of a fluorogenic methylumbelliferone) to transduce fluoride concentration into a fluorescence signal. As a proof-of-concept, it has been applied to a nucleophile saturation mutant library of Bacillus licheniformis 1,3-1,4-β-glucanase. Beyond the expected mutations at the glutamic acid (catalytic) nucleophile, other variants have been shown to acquire glycosynthase activity. Surprisingly, an aspartic acid for glutamic acid replacement renders a highly active glycosynthase, but still retains low hydrolase activity. It appears as an intermediate state between glycosyl hydrolase and glycosynthase.

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