Biodegradation; bioremediation; biosynthesis of hydrocarbons; enzymology; computational methods for predicting reactivity
Professor Wackett’s laboratory studies microbial enzymes that are useful for biodegradation and industrial biocatalysis.
Biodegradation studies are focused on atrazine (a herbicide), cyanuric acid (used in water disinfection), acrylamide (found in mining waters and foods), and aromatic hydrocarbons (from fossil fuel mining). The laboratory studies the structure and function of the enzymes by using wet lab and computational methods. The structures and mechanisms of atrazine chlorohydrolase and cyanuric acid hydrolase are under study. For bioremediation, the Wackett laboratory collaborates with Professor Alptekin Aksan (Mechanical Engineering and BTI) to engineer silica microspheres and fibers for encapsulating bacteria that contain enzymes to degrade specific chemicals of interest. These biomaterials are currently being marketed to treat waters containing single chemicals or mixed wastes such as produced waters from hydraulic fracturing operations.
In the area of biocatalysis, the Wackett laboratory works with the Wilmot Laboratory (Biochemistry and BTI) and the Lipscomb Laboratory (Biochemistry) to investigate the enzymatic basis of microbial hydrocarbon biosynthesis. In the first example, several hundred bacteria biosynthesize long-chain olefinic hydrocarbons that derive from a head-to-head condensation of fatty acids using proteins designated as OleABCD. The X-ray structure of the condensing enzyme, OleA, has been determined and its mechanism studied. The OleBCD proteins combine with OleA to produce the final olefin products and the structure and mechanism of the Ole proteins are being investigated. With Professor Lipscomb, the laboratory studies aldehyde deformylating oxygenase, a unique binuclear iron protein that generates diesel length alkanes from fatty aldehyde precursors.
In our computational research, we helped develop the University of Minnesota Biocatalysis/Biodegradation Database (http://umbbd.ethz.ch), the related metabolic pathway prediction tool, and seek to expand the use of computational methods to optimally select enzymes for specific biotransformation tasks.
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