Screening natural diversity – the first step in the discovery of Novozymes' products.


Nature is the basis for all Novozymes’ products, and screening natural microbial diversity plays an essential role in their discovery. Nature supplies us with a huge diversity of enzymes that act under a wide variety of conditions and on virtually all natural and many man-made substrates.

We gain access to the enzymes by isolating the microbes that produce them and the DNA that encodes them. In order to optimize our chances of success we fine-tune the screening strategy to the needs of the customer. We use the combined skills of microbiologists and biochemists to induce the microbes to produce the relevant enzymes and to devise a simple method to detect the reaction products among thousands of isolates.

Nature’s diversity at our hands

The microbial diversity in nature is vast and represents more than 3.5 billion years of evolution. Microbes have evolved in all habitats on earth, many of which humans would regard as uninhabitable. Microbes have been discovered growing between pH 0 and pH 12, from 0 ºC to 115 ºC, in saturated salt solutions, in marine environments, in soda lakes, and in man-made habitats.

The best estimates of microbial diversity to date claim that there are 3 million different bacterial species and 1.5 million fungal species. However, so far only a small percentage (1–5%) has actually been grown in laboratories around the world. High-throughput 16S rDNA sequencing, a method used internationally for bacterial classification, allows us to quickly (within 24 hours) determine the novelty of bacterial isolates by comparison to public and in-house databases.

Novozymes has been building up our unique collection of biological material, bacteria, and fungi since the 1950s through continual targeted isolation and collaboration with university groups. The collection has representatives of many taxonomical, physiological, ecological, and geographical groups of microorganisms. They are stored in liquid nitrogen at  180 ºC in small vials and can be quickly revived when a screening project is initiated.

Achieving the correct balance between using simple assays to allow fast detection and secondary assays that correlate to industrial processes is essential in a screening campaign. Many thousands of microbes are tested and deselected if they do not meet our high quality criteria.


We screen for new enzymes that allow you to wash your clothes at lower temperatures, convert cellulosic waste to ethanol, and prevent bread staling, to name but a few. Novozymes excels in converting customers' needs to scaled-down screening assays. Conditions such as detergent stability, temperature stability, or activity at low pH are incorporated into agar plates, microtiter plates, and robots to assist with handling.

We use molecular tools such as PCR (where conserved areas of genes can be used to fish out similar genes from a pool of DNA), screening metagenomic, genomic, and cDNA libraries. We exploit the latest advances in proteomics and high-throughput DNA sequencing to identify the genes of interest.

The genes are transferred to hosts that allow production of sufficient enzyme for purification and characterization (see also "Cloning" and and protein purification). This enzyme treasure chest is Novozymes’ investment in the future. Each screening is unique, with a new discovery just waiting to be made.

If you would like to learn more about high-throughput screening, a technique widely used at Novozymes, please see the menu on the left.