The accumulation of mismanaged organic waste and toxins in insecticides and warfare agents poses serious environmental threats to the ecosystem and human health. Bioremediation provides an effective means to address these issues, for instance, by using cleaning agents containing enzymes that break down the pollutants into more bio-friendly products. The ability to maximize the catalytic activity of those enzymes out of their native media will enable industry-scale bioremediation applications for a wider variety of pollutants. In this talk, I will discuss a recently proposed bottom-up approach for stabilizing enzymes in organic solvents, where the enzymes are mixed with copolymers that are composed of hydrophobic and hydrophilic monomers arranged in disordered sequences. These so-called random heteropolymers possess a rich diversity in monomer sequences, which plays a vital role in reducing the enzymes’ exposure the unfavorable solvent. This helps explain why the proposed approach is superior to the often-used reverse-micelle techniques in retaining the activity of numerous types of enzymes in toluene. Furthermore, the collectivity in the interaction between the polymers and enzymes upon assembly is predicted to lead to the uniform size of the assembled complexes, which is important for their solubility and delivery. These outstanding features of the random heteropolymer approach suggests new possibilities for engineering protein-based materials for applications much beyond bioremediation.
Dr. Trung Nguyen is currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department, Northwestern University. He got his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2011 and his B.Sc. at Hanoi University of Science and Technology (Vietnam) in 2004. Before joining Northwestern, he worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory during 2011-2014 as a postdoctoral associate and at the Vietnam National Academy of Science 2014-2016 as a visiting scholar. His research interest has been predictive design of soft and bio materials for drug delivery, biosensors and energy storage using statistical mechanics, molecular simulation and high-performance computing. He is the recipient of the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) doctoral fellowship 2005-2011, the VEF Fellow Association Scientific Award 2012, the MRS Communications Lecture Award 2017, and the R&D 100 Award 2018 as a member of the LAMMPS team.