A method for isolating and identifying modified para-nitrobenzyl esterases which exhibit improved stability and/or esterase hydrolysis activity toward selected substrates and under selected reaction conditions relative to the unmodified para-nitrobenzyl esterase. The method involves preparing a library of modified para-nitrobenzyl esterase nucleic acid segments (genes) which have nucleotide sequences that differ from the nucleic acid segment which encodes for unmodified para-nitrobenzyl esterase. The library of modified para-nitrobenzyl nucleic acid segments is expressed to provide a plurality of modified enzymes. The clones expressing modified enzymes are then screened to identify which enzymes have improved esterase activity by measuring the ability of the enzymes to hydrolyze the selected substrate under the selected reaction conditions. Specific modified para-nitrobenzyl esterases are disclosed which have improved stability and/or ester hydrolysis activity in aqueous or aqueous-organic media relative to the stability and/or ester hydrolysis activity of unmodified naturally occurring para-nitrobenzyl esterase.
The U.S. Government has certain rights in this invention pursuant to Grant No. DE-FG02-93CH10578 awarded by the Department of Energy and Grant No. N00014-91-J-1397 awarded by the Department of the Navy.