Our research is mainly in the areas of bioinorganic chemistry and chemical biology or industrial biotechnology. We are driven by the excitement of discovering fundamental mechanisms of catalysis in biology, and the possibilities for exploiting biocatalysis in new ways for chemical synthesis.
The activation of small molecules in biology is a key research theme in the Vincent group. Chemists have a lot to learn from catalytic processes which occur in microorganisms. For example, nature has tuned hydrogenase enzymes to oxidise and produce H2 efficiently at earth-abundant iron or nickel-iron catalytic sites. Nitrogenase catalyses the fixation of N2 to ammonia under mild conditions. Carbon dioxide reducing enzymes fix CO2 selectively into CO or formate. These chemical reactions represent some of the greatest chemical challenges for solving the world's energy problems, and we hope that what we learn from studying the biocatalytic reactions will inspire development of new catalysts for energy technologies. The Vincent group has developed a suite of spectroscopic techniques that bridge gaps between measurements of enzyme activity, spectroscopy and structure. With significant funding from the BBSRC and the European Research Council (ERC) we are employing these to great effect in probing the mechanisms of metalloenzymes involved biological hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen cycles.
In parallel we are excited by the interface between academic discovery and technology innovation. We have developed and patented a H2-driven approach to heterogeneous biocatalysis, known as the HydRegen system. This bridges the advantages of clean, metal-driven hydrogenations and selective biocatalysis under mild conditions. By immobilising all the enzymes for a desired C=X bond reduction on a carbon support, we enable heterogeneous biocatalytic hydrogenations which can be readily translated into continuous flow processes. We have extended this to biocatalytic deuterium insertion, to H2-driven flavin recycling, to continuous flow reactors and to chemo-bio catalytic cascades. With significant funding from Innovate UK, EPSRC and BBSRC, and close industrial collaborations, we are taking some of these areas forward to commercialisation. The company HydRegen was spun out from the University of Oxford in 2021 with former group member, Dr Holly Reeve, as CEO. Within the Vincent group, we continue to innovate in the biocatalysis area.