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Research Projects

Biodegradation research

The Wackett laboratory investigates bacterial biodegradative metabolism. Most recently, the lab is investigating the biodegradation of perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) and nitrogen containing contaminants emanating from agricultural practices.

Important recent publications include:

Shi, K., S. Cho, K.G. Aukema, T. Lee, A.K. Bera, J.L. Seffernick, L.P. Wackett, and H. Aihara (2019) Crystal structures of Moorella thermoacetica cyanuric acid hydrolase reveal conformational flexibility and asymmetry important for catalysis. PLoS One 14(6):e0216979. 

Hernandez, N.E., W.A. Hansen, D. Zhu, M.E. Shea, V. Manichev, M. Putnins, M. Chen, A.G. Dodge, L. Yang, M. Khalid, T. Gustafsson, L.C. Feldman, S-H. Lee, L.P. Wackett, W. Dai, and S.D. Khare (2019) Stimulus-responsive self-assembly of protein-based fractals by computational design. Nature Chemistry 11(7): 605-614.

Schneider, N., L.J. Tassoulas, A. Laseke, D. Zeng, N. Reiter, L.P. Wackett and M. St. Maurice (2020) Solving the conundrum: Widespread proteins annotated for urea metabolism in bacteria are carboxyguanidine deiminases mediating nitrogen assimilation from guanidine. Biochemistry (in press).


Studies on biodegradation provide opportunities for bioremediation of chemical contaminants in soil and water. We have conducted fundamental research that has led to commercial products. Recent research has involved PFAS in water, removal of disinfection products from food and water, and the purification of commercial urea using enzymes. The company Minnepura Technologies was founded to further develop some of the fundamental research for applying the knowledge in real-world remediation applications.

Biosynthesis: Basic and applied research

Microorganisms are being used in biotechnology to produce products ranging from antibiotics to specialty chemicals. Our laboratory investigates the fundamental mechanistic and structural issues underlying biological production of beta-lactone natural products and hydrocarbons. Beta-lactones are an emerging class of anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and anti-obesity products and our fundamental research is opening new opportunities to produce and test these compounds (Christenson, et al, 2017). The lab has discovered that one class of hydrocarbons is biosynthesized in a large multi-enzyme complex with a molecular weight of ~2 million, approaching the size of the ribosome. Structural and mechanistic studies are ongoing.

Enzyme-based sensors

We had previously worked with Bioo Scientific to help develop the MaxSignal Melamine kit for detection melamine in milk and other food products. This research has been extended to detect other compounds such nitrate in water systems.

Novel enzymes

The laboratory continues to study novel microbial enzymes that nature has evolved to handle millions of natural product and anthropogenic chemicals. This has led to the discovery of numerous novel enzymes and metabolic pathways.

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