Molecular Blueprints of Evolution

ArtistBritt Nichols
ScientistElena Sugrue
Scientist PositionPhD Candidate, Research School of Chemistry, ANU

Molecular Blueprints of Evolution

Herbicides are extensively used globally to control the growth of unwanted vegetation, bacteria in soil contaminated with these chemicals will often develop ways to break them down. Bacteria evolve these mechanisms as herbicides can be used as an additional energy source, which improves bacterial survival. Enzymes, proteins that speed up chemical reactions, are used to break down these herbicides. Bacteria in these environments will take an enzyme that is used for a different purpose in the cell, and over generations, optimise it to perform a new chemical reaction with the herbicide. My research focuses on investigating how these enzymes have been optimised through evolution, finding out what was changed in their structures to perform a new reaction.
The artwork shows a repeating pattern of shapes, these shapes represent some of the building blocks, amino acids, that make up the structure of an enzyme. My work involves analysing these structures down to these individual building blocks to figure out how they enable enzyme function. This information is essential for the potential application of these enzymes in contaminated areas, and to understand how enzymes work and evolve, which can be applied to the design of enzymes to perform reactions that we want.