Wei Niu, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has received a three-year, $335,516 grant from the National Science Foundation to work on biocatalytic reduction of carboxylic acids.
The chemical industry faces sustainability challenges that arise from both the dwindling starting materials derived from fossil fuels and increasingly unaffordable environmental costs to the human society. As a solution to these problems, biocatalysis is emerging as an indispensable alternative to traditional chemical synthesis.
In a typical biocatalytic process, natural catalysts, such as enzymes, are used to perform chemical transformations on organic compounds. Because commercial chemicals are often ‘man-made’ molecules, efforts are increasingly directed to change the properties of natural catalysts for highly efficient and economical biosynthesis of non-natural molecules.
With this grant, Niu seeks to engineer a class of enzymes called carboxylic acid reductases (CARs) and use CARs as key enzymes for the biosynthesis of industrially and pharmaceutically important chemicals.
This award also allows Niu to provide undergraduate students with new research opportunities at the intersection of biomolecular engineering and biochemistry.
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