Research Projects
Biodegradation research


The Wackett laboratory investigates microbial biocatalysis and biodegradation. Most recently, the lab is investigating the biodegradation of PFAS and pharmaceuticals, specifically metformin and related compounds.

Important recent publications include:

Tassoulas, L.J., J.A. Rankin, M.H. Elias & L.P. Wackett (2024) Dinickel enzyme evolved to metabolize the pharmaceutical metformin and its implications for wastewater and human microbiomes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci, USA 121(10): e2312652121.

Wackett, L.P. (2024) Microbial fluoride assay screening for enzymatic defluorination, In: Methods in Enzymology, volume on Fluorine Metabolism, Transport and Enzymatic Chemistry.

Tassoulas, L.J. & L.P. Wackett (2024) New insights into the action of the pharmaceutical metformin: Targeted inhibition of the gut microbial enzyme agmatinase. iScience 27:108900. 

Yu, Y., F. Xu, W. Zhao, S. Che, C. Thoma, J.E. Richman, Y. Zhu, Y. Xie, Y. Xing, C. Liu, L.P. Wackett, & Y. Men (2024) Electron-bifurcation and fluoride efflux systems in defluorination of perfluorinated carboxylic acids by Acetobacterium spp. bioRxiv,

Dodge, A.G., C. Thoma, M. O’Connor, and L.P. Wackett (2024) Recombinant Pseudomonasgrowing on non-natural fluorinated substrates shows stress but overall tolerance to cytoplasmically-released fluoride anion. mBio 15(1): e0278523.

Wackett, L.P. (2023) A microbial evolutionary approach to a sustainable future. Microbial Biotech.16: 1895-1899.  

Wackett, L.P. (2022) Nothing lasts forever: Understanding microbial biodegradation of polyfluorinated compounds, including PFAS. Micro Biotech. 15: 773-792.

Bygd, M.D., K.G. Aukema, J.E. Richman and L.P. Wackett (2022) Microwell fluoride screen for chemical, enzymatic and cellular reactions reveals latent microbial defluorination capacity for –CF3 groups. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 88(9):e0028822. 

Wackett, L.P. (2022) Strategies for the biodegradation of polyfluorinated chemicals. Microorganisms 10:1664.  

Aukema, K.G., M.D. Bygd, L.J. Tassoulas, J.E. Richman, and L.P. Wackett (2022) Fluoro-recognition: New in vivo fluorescent assay for toluene dioxygenase probing induction by and metabolism of polyfluorinated compounds. Environ. Microbiol. 24(11): 5202-5216.



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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