Biocatalysis For Production Of Epoxides


The ultimate aim of biocatalysis research is to replace the petrochemical industry with clean and green microbial reactions using renewable and non-toxic feedstocks.  But how exactly do we go about replacing industrial chemical reactions with biochemical reactions?  How can we use microbes and enzymes to make the useful chemicals that we need in our daily lives?


Dr Nicholas Coleman, Associate Professor Peter Rutledge

Research Location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program Type



We are especially interested in the reactions of monooxygenases - these enzymes add oxygen to specific locations in organic modules, yielding alchols and epoxides.  Some monooxygenases act in a highly selective fashion, e.g. making nearly pure single enantiomers of epoxides, which are valuable for pharmaceutical synthesis.

Our favourite enzyme is the monooxygenase of mycobacterium spp. This fascinating enzyme can do tricks that organic chemists can only dream of, but annoyingly, it is found in a bug that is very hard to work with. Genetic engineering to the rescue! This project will aim to express the ethene monooxygenase and related interesting enzymes in more industrially-friendly hosts (e.g. E.coli). This will allow us to :have our cake and eat it too". We will investigate issues like codon usage, accessory proteins, growth conditions, different cloning vectors and cloning hosts in an attempt to come up with a high-activity and easy-to-use recombiant system for converting alkenes to epoxides.

Additional Information

The project requires skills and knowledge in microbiology, molecular biology, chemistry and biochemistry.  However if you can meet some of these requirements we can teach you others as part of your PhD training.

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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microbiology; biotechnology; molecular biology; biochemistry

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2462

Other opportunities with Dr Nicholas Coleman

Other opportunities with Associate Professor Peter Rutledge