Burton sings Nature's praises

11 April 2008 | Story by Megan Morris

Stephanie Burton

As a scientist in search of an ideal catalyst - a substance that accelerates a chemical reaction without being changed by that reaction - to use in a host of chemical processes, Professor Stephanie Burton turns to Mother Nature.

In her inaugural lecture, Using Enzymes for Catalysis: Nature does it better, Burton gave the audience a comprehensive review of the work done by her Biocatalysis and Technical Biology Research Group on the subject of biocatalysis. As indicated in her lecture title, the catalysts they use are enzymes, the protein catalysts in living cells.

Enzymes have many advantages as catalysts, explained Burton. They are efficient, specific, can handle extreme conditions and are "green" to boot.

Burton's research centres around the development of enzymes as biocatalysts useful for applications such as turning waste organic residues in industrial wastewaters to economically viable products, and the production of antioxidants.

Part of the research involves the search for new and novel enzymes that can be used as new biocatalysts. Here, Mother Nature is generous in her bounty. Enzymes can be extracted from mushrooms or plants, and microorganisms in salt lakes, mud pools and the Antarctic.

"There are millions of enzymes still to be found out there," said Burton.

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