Evolution of enzymes under anthropogenic selection pressure and their application in environmental bioremediation, University of Sheffield, 20 Jul 17, 11:00-14:00 hrs

Dr Colin Scott will be at The University of Sheffield on Thursday July 20th 2017 to discuss his ongoing research and develop potential new collaborations. Registration can be found here.

Dr Scott was born in 1975 in Scotland. He obtained a BSc (hon) in Genetics from the University of Wales (UK) in 1996 and a PhD in Molecular Microbiology from Sheffield University (UK) in 2000. He moved to CSIRO Entomology in Canberra in 2004 as a post-doctoral fellow, and now leads the Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology Group in CSIRO. The EIB Group contains three teams: Biocatalysis, Metabolomics and Bioprocess Technologies & Environmental Engineering. Colin also leads a number of projects in biocatalysis and synthetic biology.

Dr Scott has a strong interest in understanding the enormous diversity of biochemistry and metabolism that has evolved in nature, with on-going research in:

  • enzyme structure/function relationships
  • evolution of new enzyme function (for example, pesticide catabolism)
  • developing enzyme technologies for bioremediation of pesticides
  • developing biocatalysts for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and plastics/polymers
  • ABC transporter engineering.

Nature has produced organisms that can perform some truly amazing chemistry at a level of sophistication that human chemists simply can’t match. Some of these biochemical innovations date back to the origins of life itself, where the ‘chemical language’ of biology developed. However, new enzymatic functions still arise in response to changes in the chemical environment that organisms find themselves in, including the novel chemical challenges that post-industrial humanity provides.

Anthropogenic chemicals, such as pesticides, often didn’t exist in nature before they were introduced by humans. New enzymes to deal with such chemicals evolve over a remarkably short span of time – and when we’re very lucky we can catch them in the act, finding model systems for studying the molecular mechanisms that drive (and constrain) evolution.

While evolutionary studies of enzymes provide deep insights into the way that biology works at a chemical level, there is also a broad range of practical applications for enzyme technologies. For example, the use of enzymes and microbes to drive chemical transformations (i.e. biocatalysis) is rapidly becoming the preferred technology in chemical manufacture.

Dr Scott’s work focuses on bioprospecting for novel enzymes for biotechnological applications, studying the processes by which new enzyme activities can evolve, improving their function in the laboratory and developing new processes that can reduce the cost and environmental footprint of chemical synthesis.