The research project, entitled “CAREER: Mechanism of Cytochrome P450 Alkene Biosynthesis” targets understanding a newly discovered family of enzymes (termed OleT) that can convert fats into hydrocarbons that can be readily used as liquid transportation fuels.
The chemical reaction that OleT catalyzes is highly atypical for this family of enzymes, which normally insert oxygen into substrates, making them more water soluble. Even though OleT uses a very similar series of chemical steps, it catalyzes a completely different reaction, instead breaking a relatively stable carbon-carbon bond and creating a usable fuel.
Dr. Makris’s lab is using a number of biophysical methods to leverage this chemistry further, with the ultimate aim of engineering bacteria that use modified forms of the enzyme to efficiently convert their own fatty acids into fuels. As part of their efforts, they are engaging the UofSC community to help design a better catalyst through a protein engineering initiative termed Fats to Fuels, with the goal of engineering this activity into a related enzyme.