Professor Rachel Austin


On April 17, 2023, Rachel Narehood Austin, Diana T. and P. Roy Vagelos Professor of Chemistry, and colleagues published a new article in Accounts of Chemical Research, titled “Structure and Function of Alkane Monooxygenase (AlkB).” The paper provides a review of some of her work centering on the transformation of alkanes — the most energy-rich form of carbon — by microbes, a key step in the global carbon cycle.

Austin and her colleagues focused specifically on alkane monooxygenase (AlkB), a specific, biodiverse form of alkane that possesses the ability to convert straight-chain alkanes into alcohols. This transformation marks the first step of the microbially mediated degradation of alkanes and plays a critical role in the global cycling of carbon and the bioremediation of oil.

In reviewing her research, Austin and her colleagues describe the significance of their recent cryo-EM structure of AlkB. They comment on the unexpected configuration of the diiron center of AlkB and discuss the molecular determinants for substrate selectivity. Their findings provide insight into the catalytic mechanism of AlkB and shed light on its function in alkane-degrading microorganisms.