Jonathan Sarfati interviews Finnish biochemist Dr Matti Leisola

Dr Matti Leisola obtained his D.Sc. (Tech) in biotechnology from the Helsinki (Finland’s capital) University of Technology in 1979. His extensive career includes winning the Latsis Prize for a significant young researcher in 1987 in Switzerland, being Director of Research (1988–1997) in an international Biotech company, and most recently Dean of the Faculty of Chemical and Materials Sciences at the new Finnish Aalto University. He has published over 120 papers, mainly on enzyme research, authored 20 articles in books or conference proceedings, and obtained six patents. Dr Leisola’s scientific articles are cited about 1300 times in the scientific literature.

Many of our readers would remember Dr Matti Leisola from CMI’s Darwin documentary, The Voyage that Shook the World (2009). But he is much better known to the scientific community as an expert in his area of enzymes. Dr Leisola explains:

“I like to call enzymes ‘the tools of life’. They are a type of protein—a macromolecule (large molecule) made out of specifically arranged amino acids. They are life’s catalysts—that is, they greatly speed up specific chemical reactions of living cells. Enzymes recognize, convert, transfer, transport, oxidize, reduce, join molecules together and break them apart.”

The instructions to build them are encoded on our DNA. Dr Leisola explains that just as the Finnish language has 29 letters,1 so the enzyme language has 20 biochemical ‘letters’ (amino acids), each of which is coded by three-letter ‘words’ in the DNA language (which has four different letters). For example, ‘Matti Leisola’ is a specific combination of 12 letters and one space. “This combination is so specific that it helps anybody to find me out of all the people in the world since no one else I know of has this same combination. An average enzyme contains about 300 biochemical letters. This makes each enzyme very specialized for a given task.”….

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