Nat Commun. 2022 Aug 26;13(1):5021. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-32727-w.
Noncanonical redox cofactors are attractive low-cost alternatives to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (phosphate) (NAD(P)+) in biotransformation. However, engineering enzymes to utilize them is challenging. Here, we present a high-throughput directed evolution platform which couples cell growth to the in vivo cycling of a noncanonical cofactor, nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN+). We achieve this by engineering the life-essential glutathione reductase in Escherichia coli to exclusively rely on the reduced NMN+ (NMNH). Using this system, we develop a phosphite dehydrogenase (PTDH) to cycle NMN+ with ~147-fold improved catalytic efficiency, which translates to an industrially viable total turnover number of ~45,000 in cell-free biotransformation without requiring high cofactor concentrations. Moreover, the PTDH variants also exhibit improved activity with another structurally deviant noncanonical cofactor, 1-benzylnicotinamide (BNA+), showcasing their broad applications. Structural modeling prediction reveals a general design principle where the mutations and the smaller, noncanonical cofactors together mimic the steric interactions of the larger, natural cofactors NAD(P)+.