Optically pure β-amino acids constitute interesting building blocks for peptidomimetics and a great variety of pharmaceutically important compounds. Their efficient synthesis still poses a major challenge. Transaminases (also known as aminotransferases) possess a great potential for the synthesis of optically pure β-amino acids. These pyridoxal 5'-dependent enzymes catalyze the transfer of an amino group from a donor substrate to an acceptor, thus enabling the synthesis of a wide variety of chiral amines and amino acids. Transaminases can be applied either for the kinetic resolution of racemic compounds or the asymmetric synthesis starting from a prochiral substrate. This review gives an overview over microbial transaminases with activity towards β-amino acids and their substrate spectra. It also outlines current strategies for the screening of new biocatalysts. Particular emphasis is placed on activity assays which are applicable to high-throughput screening.
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