Research Fellows Directory
Professor Kylie Vincent
University of Oxford
In order to produce and utilise clean, renewable fuels, we rely on catalysts based on expensive, rare metals such as platinum to facilitate a series of chemical transformations. We have much to learn from nature. In microorganisms, a range of reactions relevant to energy chemistry are catalysed by efficient and selective enzymes, using active sites built from cheap, readily available metals including Ni, Fe and Cu. Understanding the structures and complex chemistry of metals inside enzymes is an important challenge. My research develops and applies methods for examining detailed chemistry of enzyme sites under the control of an electrode. In a collaborative project with microbiologists from the Humboldt University of Berlin, we have taken apart a complex hydrogen oxidising enzyme from a microbe that can live on hydrogen and oxygen for energy. Immobilising parts of the enzyme on an electrode has allowed us to probe the chemistry of parts of this enzyme without the complications of other cellular processes. What we have learnt about the hydrogen binding part of this enzyme may help chemists to develop new catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells. We also discovered that the other fragment of this enzyme is an excellent catalyst for rapidly recycling a molecule called NADH that has to be continuously supplied when certain enzymes are used to catalyse steps in chemical synthesis of pharmaceuticals.
We are also working to develop new ways of studying enzyme chemistry. When small molecules attached to metal centres vibrate, light in the infrared region of the spectrum is absorbed. Changes in the exact frequency of light absorbed provide information about what is going on at metals inside the enzymes. We have established a method for studying metal centres as they transform hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen based molecules. This should provide insight for new bio-inspired energy catalysts.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)