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Lauren Rajakovich Awarded The McCarl Graduate Scholarship

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5 November 2015 — Lauren Rajakovich, graduate student in the Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology (BMMB) degree program at Penn State University, has been awarded the Richard L. and Norma L. McCarl Graduate Scholarship for the 2015 academic year. She works in the labs of Bollinger/Krebs.

The scholarship provides recognition and financial assistance to an outstanding graduate student in the BMMB degree program.

Lauren’s research focuses on natural microbial pathways for biofuel production, a critical area of research in the field of alternative energy. She is studying a cyanobacterial pathway that converts abundant fatty acids into hydrocarbons. These naturally produced hydrocarbons can be used as "drop-in compatible" petrodiesel because they do not require further chemical modification or processing. This system is particularly attractive because cyanobacteria can utilize sunlight and carbon dioxide to generate the fatty acid precursors, rendering this an inexpensive, carbon neutral process. Biotechnology companies are actively pursuing biofuel-production processes based on this pathway and, in fact, have enlisted the group that she works with as consultants. Her ongoing work aims to understand the molecular mechanism of the second of two enzymes in this pathway, aldehyde-deformylating oxygenase (ADO), which produces the final hydrocarbon product. ADO is a diiron metalloenzyme that catalyzes a oxygen-dependent redox reaction, requiring an auxiliary reducing system for activity. She has studied the electron transfer steps in catalysis that are critically coupled to fidelity and efficiency of the reaction. She discovered that ADO has a number of vulnerabilities, inherent to its free-radical mechanism of catalysis, which dramatically compromise hydrocarbon production. Her goal is to elucidate the intricacies of ADO catalysis that can be optimized and engineered for development of a viable biofuel process.

Congratulations Lauren on a well-deserved award!