Special Chemisty Seminar
Catalysts that operate under mild reaction conditions are essential for myriad applications spanning multiple disciplines. My group is developing new methodologies to discover enzymes and enzyme-mimicking catalysts, and we are applying these catalysts to address challenges in sustainability and chemical biology. In one project area, we are developing new catalysts for recycling plastic waste under mild conditions. Enzymes have attracted interest for eco-friendly plastic recycling, but existing enzymes react slowly with bulk plastics. We have developed a directed evolution platform to discover enzymes that degrade bulk plastics much more rapidly than previously reported enzymes. In another project area, we have developed catalysts that allow identification of endogenous proteins in specific regions of living cells, which is important in elucidating biological processes and understanding mechanisms of disease states. This general approach, called "proximity labeling" (PL), has enabled numerous biological discoveries, but existing PL catalysts have limited sensitivity and/or specificity in detecting endogenous proteins. I will describe a suite of hybrid biological-abiotic catalysts with enhanced sensitivity and specificity compared to existing tools. Overall, this research program spans the seemingly disparate fields of sustainability and chemical biology through the development of catalysts that operate under mild conditions. This work has broader implications and future applications in the numerous disciplines for which catalysts are essential.