Bryn Mawr Chemists’ Synthesis of Key Molecule Highlighted in the Journal of the American Chemical Society

Posted February 6th, 2013 at 4:14 pm.

The Burmayer Research Group

The Burgmayer Research Group

The work of Chemistry Professor Sharon Burgmayer’s research group was recently highlighted by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“This article is the culmination of decades of research in my labs devoted to creating a model compound for the reactive center in molybdenum enzymes,” says Burgmayer.

Molybdenum is a chemical element found in all higher order organisms and molybdenum containing enzymes play a role in everything from nitrogen assimilation in plants to human neurology.

“Enzymes are proteins that control all the reactions in biochemistry and metalloenzymes, such as  molybdenum enzymes, do this using metals at the site of the reaction” explains Burgmayer. “Molybdenum-containing enzymes comprise one large family where one or more members are critical to the health of nearly every living thing on the planet.”


Molybdenum (center green atom) bound to its special ligand (at right) as synthesized by the Burgmayer group

Metalloenzymes often require, in addition to the metal, a special small molecule, or ligand, in order to perform their reaction.  Burgmayer’s group was able to synthesize a molecule nearly identical to the special ligand used by molybdenum enzymes.

The group’s research was funded by the National Institute of Health because of its relevance to human health. Three molybdenum enzymes have been identified in humans and are linked to fatal genetically transmitted diseases.  The diseases are mainly tied to the absence of the ligand but why the ligand is so critical is not understood.  With a similar molecule in hand, the Burgmayer group can now study in detail the behavior of this ligand on molybdenum.

In addition to Burgmayer, the JACS paper was co-authored by Bryn Mawr Chemistry Ph.D. student Benjamin Williams (lead author) and undergraduate student Yichun Fu ’13. Dr. Glenn P. A. Yap of the University of Delaware did the X-ray crystallographic analysis. Burgmayer, Williams, and graduate student Doug Gisewhite presented this research at the Metals in Biology Gordon Research Conference in Ventura, Calif., in January.

“My research group is thrilled that we are the first researchers to accomplish this and I’m proud that we made it happen in this unique environment of a Ph.D. granting liberal arts college where graduate students and undergraduate students work together on challenging problems in chemistry,” says Burgmayer.

Burgmayer also has authored the chapter “Molybdenum and Pterins” for the upcoming book “Molybdenum” and one of her watercolors is being used for the book’s cover. Burgmayer’s artwork has also appeared on the cover of an issue of the journal Inorganic Chemistry. To see more of her artwork, go here.
Molybdenum 978-1-62417-272-4

Undergraduate student researchers have the opportunity to be involved in the research programs of chemistry faculty as early as their sophomore year.

Bryn Mawr’s Chemistry Department combines high quality, visible research programs with excellent teaching. The chemistry department seeks to provide a supportive and rigorous curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate level to students having diverse preparation and diverse goals. The chemistry major includes introductory and advanced courses in the core areas of biological, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry. Advanced courses are informed by the research areas of bioinorganic, nanomaterials, medicinal, computational, organic materials, and nucleic acid and protein chemistry. For more information, visit the Chemistry Department website.

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