Marc Garcia-Borràs, member of Research Team that receives 2021 Royal Society of Chemistry award

Today, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has announced the 2021 RSC prize winners that recognise individuals, collaborations and teams for their exceptional achievements in advancing the chemical sciences.

This year’s 2021 RSC Organic Division Horizon Prize: Bioorganic Chemistry Award recognizes an international Team for the discovery of a new class of enzymes, the pericyclases, that catalyse reactions in biosynthesis of complex natural products, and for identifying their mechanisms. Dr. Marc Garcia-Borràs, IQCC principal investigator, is part of the international Team that receives this award.

Announcement of the RSC award

A collaboration between the Tang, Houk and Garg labs at the University of California, Los Angeles, led by a team of postdoctoral scholars and graduate students, discovered and characterized a family of natural enzymes called the pericyclases.

Enzymes are proteins found naturally in cells, facilitating and speeding up chemical reactions within the cell. Pericyclases catalyse a special class of organic reactions called pericyclic reactions – where the reactants form a cyclical structure before forming products. These reactions are commonplace in laboratory synthesis of small molecules (i.e. commodity chemicals or pharmaceuticals) and are often considered ‘abiological’ or ‘invented’ by synthetic chemists.

The team’s discovery means that we now know that nature uses this chemistry, revealing an entire “toolbox” of enzymes that catalyse reactions previously not known. This fundamentally shifts our knowledge on how nature constructs complex molecules that are essential for life, opening up new opportunities in chemical synthesis.

Using an interdisciplinary approach combining genetics, biochemistry, structural biology and computational science, the team have studied these pericyclases to understand how the enzymes evolved and the mechanisms behind the catalysis.This fundamental understanding means the team can modify the enzymes to alter and therefore control what reaction is catalysed. This increases the potential of these enzymes in synthetic chemistry even further, and provides proof-of-concept that enzymes can be artificially modified in the lab for new applications.

By combining enzyme discovery, mutational studies, X-ray crystallography, quantum mechanics, molecular dynamics, and synthetic chemistry, the 18 members of our team, located in the US, China, Japan, and Spain, have revealed previously unknown secrets of nature.
Professors Yi Tang and Ken Houk.

The Pericyclases team

The full Peryciclases Team
Sarah Anthony, Graduate Student, UCLA
Joyann Barber, Graduate Student, UCLA
Yujuan Cai, Graduate Student, Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry
Shugeng Cao, Collaborator, University of Hawaii, Hilo
Jason Chari, Graduate Student, UCLA
Mengbin Chen, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Marc Garcia-Borras, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Neil Garg, Co-Principal Investigator, UCLA
Yang Hai, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Kendall Houk, Co-Principal Investigator, UCLA
Cooper Jamieson, Graduate Student, UCLA
Thomas Kakule, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Daiki Kanayama, Undergraduate Student, UCLA
Fang Liu, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Masao Ohashi, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Elias Picazo, Graduate Student, UCLA
Michio Sato, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Dan Tan, Visiting Scientist, UCLA
Yi Tang, Principal Investigator, UCLA
Man-cheng Tang, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA
Kenji Watanabe, Collaborator, University of Shizuoka
Zhongyue Yang, Graduate Student, UCLA
Jiahai Zhou, Collaborator, Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry

Pericyclases in the lab

Girona, June 8, 2021
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