Larryn Peterson, assistant professor of chemistry at Rhodes College, has won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant with Keri Colabroy, associate professor of chemistry at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. This competitive award supports their collaborative investigation of an unstudied family of enzymes that could be used in the production of biofuels derived from plants.
Keri Colabroy was awarded $180,000 as principal investigator and Peterson awarded $114,000 as the co-PI. Dispersed over three years, the combined grant includes funds for undergraduate students working in the faculty's research labs each semester, additional summer research, and travel to conferences.
In their work titled "Kinetic Study and Mechanism of L-DOPA Dioxygenase, a New Type of Vicinal-Oxygen-Chelate (VOC) Dioxygenase," Peterson and Colabroy will examine a class of enzymes called dioxygenases that help speed up a difficult chemical reaction to break down molecules like those found in the woody tissue of plants. The complex relationship between structure and function of these enzymes is not well understood, according to Peterson. This lack of understanding limits the use of enzymes to make new natural products and convert plant material into biofuels.