Harnessing the Synthetic Capabilities of Microbes for Sustainable Synthesis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


The process of aerobic respiration by microorganisms is inherently reductive, and uses molecular oxygen to support
primary metabolism via the electron transport chain. However, under anoxic conditions facultative anaerobes can use small
molecule "terminal electron acceptors" as oxidants to support their metabolic processes. These include sulfoxides, sulfates,
metals, aryl halides, and C=C double bonds, all of which are functional groups of interest to synthetic organic chemists.
Examples of such organisms include the Gram-negative microbe Shewanella onedensis, which respires on DMSO using
the molybdopterin-dependent outer membrane reductase DmsAB, and the pathogenic microbe Pseudomonas aeruginosa,
which respires on Fe3+ ions during colonisation of the human lung. However, despite the chemo- and stereo-selectivity
inherent to many of these enzymatic transformations, their use in synthetic chemistry remains unexplored.

This project will explore the synthetic capabilities of microorganisms and the applications of evolutionary methods to create
new enzymes for use in organic chemistry. In particular, we will focus on reactions that are not possible using traditional
synthetic methods. This will streamline many current routes towards industrially important chemicals, whilst also
diminishing the volume of chemical waste produced and enabling its recyclability.


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