Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

New Enzymes by Evolution: Expanding Nature's Catalytic Repertoire

by Cathryn Delude

April 4th, 2014


Frances Arnold, Ph.D., will deliver the 2014 John T. Edsall Lecture, entitled "New Enzymes by Evolution: Expanding Nature's Catalytic Repertoire," on April 17.

Arnold is the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at California Institute of Technology, and the Director, Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center.

She heads a research group at Caltech that has pioneered methods of "directed evolution" that are now widely used to create biological catalysts for use in industrial processes, including the production of fuels and chemicals from renewable resources. In a process akin to breeding by artificial selection, directed evolution uses mutation and screening to optimize the amino-acid sequence of a protein and give it new capabilities or improve its performance.

Arnold's research group develops evolutionary design strategies and uses them to generate novel and useful proteins for applications in medicine, neurobiology, chemical synthesis, and alternative energy. They also construct entire synthetic families of enzymes and other proteins in order to study structure-function relationships free from constraints of natural selection. This research requires contributions from many disciplines, including chemistry, bioengineering, biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, chemical engineering, chemistry and applied physics.

Arnold is one of five living innovators inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) in 2014. She holds the rare distinction of having been elected to all three branches of the National Academies—the National Academy of Engineering (2000), the Institute of Medicine (2004), and the National Academy of Sciences (2008). Among other awards, she has also recently been honored with the Charles Stark Draper Prize (2011) and by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011); American Association for the Advancement of Science (2010 Fellow); and American Academy of Microbiology (2009 Fellow).

Arnold received her B.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 1979 and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley in 1985; and conducted postdoctoral research in chemistry at UC Berkeley, 1985, and at Caltech, 1986.