Research Fellows Directory
Professor Nigel Scrutton
University of Manchester
Quantitative models of catalysis remain at the core of chemical research. They underpin enzyme exploitation and engineering for sustainable energy and applications in industrial biotechnology and manufacture. However, our ability to rationally design new bio-catalysts for manufacture, or re-profile existing enzymes, is severely compromised because we lack comprehensive, physical and predictive models from which to understand the origin of catalytic power. While enzymes are efficient catalysts achieving substantial rate enhancements, the precise origin of this catalytic power has remained unresolved after more than a century of research. The dominant paradigm remains transition state theory (TST), where the reaction rate is determined by the height of the energy barrier. For hydrogen (H) transfers, however, reactions occur in part, or in full, by quantum mechanical tunnelling (QMT) and these may require new physical models to analyse reaction data that explicitly recognise QMT. QMT is now widely appreciated in enzyme systems, but its importance to bio-catalysis, and the nature of physical models that describe its action, remain controversial. The potential importance of fast (promoting) motions in enhancing the rate of the chemical step in an enzyme catalysed reaction has emerged, in particular from models of QMT. The ‘promoting motions’ hypothesis is controversial, yet goes to the very heart of catalysis. This fellowship award has been aimed at advancing our understanding of these dynamics in relation to biological catalysis with a view to developing more complete models of catalysis that ultimately will guide rational re-design for applications in industry.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)