Research Fellows Directory
Professor Fraser Armstrong FRS
University of Oxford
My research is concerned with understanding and exploiting the ways that enzymes catalyse reactions in which electrons are transferred. Such reactions comprise some of the most important processes by which organisms capture and use solar energy, how they use hydrogen, and how they synthesise organic compounds. Over the past year, my group has made important contributions to understanding how microorganisms make and oxidise hydrogen gas, which is of interest for the development of new catalysts and relevant for bringing forth storable, renewable energy from the sun. One set of investigations, of an essential amino acid (arginine) located in the active site of a hydrogenase, suggest that this component may have evolved not only as an integral part of the hydrogen activation mechanism but also to prevent the blocking of activity by carbon monoxide, which would have been present to quite high levels in the early atmosphere when microbial life started. My group has also extended a discovery patented in 2016, of the ‘electrochemical’ leaf, an electrode material that makes possible highly specific organic synthesis using enzymes. The electrochemical leaf uses the enzyme ‘FNR’ that is found in green leaves, and responsible for biosynthesis of organic molecules from sunlight. After production using a method that generates large quantities of the enzyme, FNR is coated onto a material called indium tin oxide (ITO) which is familiar in electronic displays. The technology is highly scalable and easy to use. The invention could revolutionise the ways that very expensive pharmaceuticals are produced. We are following several different directions, in terms of investigations of materials, enzymology, genetic engineering and reactor design to take this technology forward.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)