Enzyme-Mimicking Catalysis in Evolvable Three-Dimensional Scaffolds

Naturally occurring enzymes catalyze a remarkably wide range of reactions with excellent efficiency and selectivity under mild conditions, making them potentially useful for numerous applications. However, the applications of natural enzymes are limited because they are generally expensive, difficult to prepare on large scale, too specific in their activity, and prone to deactivation outside their host organisms. A long-standing challenge has been to develop synthetic enzyme-mimicking catalysts, but nearly all synthetic catalysts reported to date are orders of magnitude less efficient than natural enzymes, which contain pre-organized functional groups in flexible three-dimensional cavities that are challenging to replicate synthetically. By combining innovative three-dimensional cage-like architectures, combinatorial synthetic strategies, and biotechnology-inspired high-throughput screening, we seek to create highly efficient enzyme-mimicking catalysts.

This interdisciplinary research program—drawing from organic chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, and materials—is expected to yield novel and practically useful catalysts and to provide fundamental insights into catalytic mechanisms. Our group is exploring diverse applications of these catalysts, including synthetic methodology, energy, environmental remediation, and diagnostics. The molecules and materials developed during this research will have applications beyond enzyme-mimicking catalysis, including targeted therapeutics, drug delivery, and chemical separations.