Sabbatical research expands collaboration horizons for Patrick Willoughby

As part of a sabbatical experience spanning January through August 2020, Associate Professor of Chemistry Patrick Willoughby helped develop new enzyme-catalyzed chemical reactions.

The work was done in the labs of Professor Andrew R. Buller at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Willoughby and a graduate student, Anthony Meza, collaborated to engineer a strain of
E. coli to overexpress two enzymes. These two enzymes work together to synthesize a new class of amino acids, organic molecules that are highly valuable for biochemistry, molecular biology, and chemical biology research.

This new “bio”-catalytic process greatly improves the production of an otherwise difficult-to-access class of organic molecules, Willoughby says. The E. coli whole cells also supply the source of the enzyme, allowing researchers to avoid tedious protein purification steps.

“Overall, the process allowed us to produce several dozen brand new amino acids using a single chemical operation,” Willoughby says. “It was amazing to see such a powerful transformation occur by simply adding a tiny amount of engineered bacteria cells.”

He says the collaborations established with the Buller lab and the vast number of new techniques he was exposed to were the most valuable parts of participating in the novel research.

“I am truly grateful for the opportunity that Ripon College and UW-Madison afforded me this past year, and I look forward to expanding this research to include Ripon College students.”


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