Larry Wackett

Distinguished McKnight University Professor

Research Summary

The Wackett Lab investigates enzyme transformations for biotechnological applications. The applications focus on biodegradation for environmental purposes and biocatalysis for producing specialty chemicals or detection kits. The biodegradation research is now directed toward the treatment of waters generated during the process of hydraulic fracturing to obtain oil and gas from shale resources. We also study the biodegradation ofs-triazine compounds such as the herbicide atrazine and pool water chemical cyanuric acid. The biocatalysis research is heavily focused on better understanding the enzymatic basis of bacterial hydrocarbon biosynthesis. Renewable hydrocarbons are currently of interest as fuels or feedstocks. The Wackett Lab also studies enzymes that degrade food adulterants to use them for developing detection systems. For example, we had previously worked with Bioo Scientific to help develop the MaxSignal Melamine kit for detection melamine in milk and other food products.

The Wackett Lab studies microbial enzymes and pathways for biocatalysis and biodegradation and helped build theBiocatalysis/Bioegradation Database.Cyanuric acid hydrolase X-ray structure showing bound inhibitor in center. The Wackett Lab investigates microbial biodegradative metabolism and enzymes. In one example, bacteria initiate metabolism of atrazine via the enzyme atrazine chlorohydrolase for which we first reported the structure (Seffernick, et al, 2010). In collaboration with Hideki Aihara’s group, we have defined the novel cyanuric acid hydrolase protein family (Seffernick, et al, 2012) and more recently, the X-ray structure.

The Wackett Lab is also studying the biodegradation of acrylamide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.BioremediationOur studies on biodegradation provide opportunities for bioremediation of chemical contaminants in water. The chemicals treated are atrazine, cyanuric acid, acrylamide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene and substituted aromatic compounds. Biodegrading microbes are being deployed in silica microspheres. The silica encapsulation stabilizes thein vivoenzyme activities and makes a formulation that can be stored and used as needed. We are developing specialized silica gels that enhance biotransformation rates and thus have important industrial applications. We have helped found the bioremediation company, Minnepura Technologies Inc. Bacterial hydrocarbon biosynthesisIndustry is interested in renewable hydrocarbons as specialty chemical products. Our research investigates the fundamental mechanistic and structural issues underlying biological hydrocarbon synthesis. Studies are focused on the biosynthesis of long-chain olefins and diesel-length alkanes.

The Wackett Lab is involved in a multi-investigator project to design the RAPID algorithm. RAPID is defined as reactive activity product identification and is a bioinformatics project designed to help predict the reactions catalyzed by broad-specificity enzymes that have significance in biosynthesis and biodegradation.