Enzymes are highly selective catalysts that perform intricate chemistries with exquisite selectivities and high catalytic rates under ambient reaction temperatures and pressures. Traditional biocatalysis has been performed in aqueous solutions, however, many industrial processes, especially synthetic organic reactions, take place at high temperatures, often in organic solvents. It is therefore advantageous to develop methods for design and optimization of enzymes for use in a variety of environments. Our group specializes in the use and optimization of enzymatic catalysis in nonaqueous media (organic liquids, gases, and room temperature ionic liquids) as well as computational analysis and design of enzymes for the purpose of stabilization under high temperatures (aqueous media).
Nature owes its unparalleled structural and functional diversity to the power of enzymes and multi-enzyme pathways that comprise the synthetic machinery of biological systems. Mankind has only been able to tap into a small part of this biocatalytic repertoire, yet this has resulted in a vast array of natural products for use as pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, chemical intermediates, and biomaterials. Nevertheless, a significantly larger and more diverse universe of natural compounds, as well as the enzymes and metabolic pathways that generate such molecules, remains untapped. We are combining the fields of biocatalysis, bioinformatics, metabolic engineering, and high-throughput combinatorial biosynthesis with microsystems engineering to form a new area of fundamental and applied research. This new area, called "molecular bioprocessing" enables us to join the technologies of combinatorial biosynthesis with high-throughput biocatalytic technologies, which allow access to nature's "warehouse" of structures and functions, and to be able to manipulate the synthesis of these molecules to yield novel compounds and materials for use in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and agrochemical industries.
We are enabling the efficient and selective interaction of biomolecules with synthetic nanoscale building blocks to generate functional assemblies. Specifically, we are focused on the preparation, fundamental understanding, and the application of biomolecule-nanoparticle composite materials with tailored structure and function. These resulting functional hybrid materials that integrate biotic and abiotic components can be used to generate “smart materials” that can sense, assemble, clean, and heal.