The Fall 2021 Herbert Morawetz Distinguished Lecture is co-sponsored by Arts & Science Department of Chemistry and the Tandon School of Engineering Women Faculty. This special lecture, delivered by Frances Arnold, Nobel Laureate (2018) and Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, is entitled, "Innovation by Evolution: Bringing New Chemistry to Life." Co-hosted by Kent Kirshenbaum (Chemistry) and Jin Montclare (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering).
Not satisfied with biology’s vast catalyst repertoire, I want to create new enzyme catalysts and expand the chemistry of life. We use the most powerful biological design process, evolution, to optimize existing enzymes and invent new ones, thereby circumventing our profound ignorance of how sequence encodes function. Chemistry encoded in DNA and optimized by evolution enables efficient, sustainable routes to important fuels and chemicals. Evolution not only optimizes, it can also innovate and create entirely new enzyme catalysts. I will illustrate how whole families of new-to-nature enzymes increase the scope of molecules and materials that can be built using synthetic biology.