Dr Valerie Soo, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Royal Society of New Zealand 2016 Hamilton Lecture
RSNZ Manawatu Branch August 2016 meeting
7.30 pm Tuesday, 16 August, Te Manawa – Art Gallery, 326 Main Street, Palmerston North
Enzymes are the protein molecules that accelerate chemical reactions in all types of cells. Most enzymes are designed for specific functions, for example certain enzymes will break down antibiotics resulting in antibiotic resistance. This specialisation suggests a lack of flexibility but we know that enzymes do develop novel functions, so how does this happen? If enzymes are designed for one role, how do they develop novel functions?
Whilst doing her PhD, Valerie Soo discovered that many enzymes in the laboratory bacterium, Escherichia coli, have weak secondary functions. When placed in environments where toxins or antibiotics were present, these secondary functions enabled the bacteria to grow in almost one third of these environments. The unexpected development of antibiotic resistance shows the possible role of weak secondary functions and how they help to evolve new functions in proteins.
Dr Valerie Soo completed her undergraduate degree at Monash University Malaysia and her PhD at Massey University. Valerie’s doctoral research on ‘promiscuous proteins’ changed the way that we think about enzyme evolution and led to her being awarded the 2015 Hamilton Memorial Prize by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which is awarded annually for the encouragement of early-career researchers. Valerie is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Pennsylvania State University, USA.
All warmly welcome