Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2017

Timothy A. Wencewicz

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis

Chemoenzymatic Synthesis of Strained Beta-Lactones

“Infectious diseases continue to be a leading cause of death worldwide, and the rapid development of bacterial resistance to current antibiotic chemotherapies is one of the world’s most urgent health problems,” observes Timothy A. Wencewicz, chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis.

Wencewicz and his colleagues are dedicated to discovering new antibacterial molecules and drug delivery systems that overcome bacterial resistance mechanisms. His research focuses on naturally occurring compounds, based on the theory that Nature has spent millions of years perfecting the chemistry to assemble infinitely complex molecules in living organisms. 

Recently Wencewicz received a Cottrell Scholar Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to pursue a particular set of naturally occurring molecules, beta-lactones, which have been found to have therapeutic value as antimicrobial, antiviral, anticancer, and anti-obesity agents through the inhibition of certain enzymes.

While beta-lactone molecules have been synthesized artificially, it is not currently known how they are created in living organisms.

Wencewicz’s Cottrell Scholar Award will allow him to pursue a systematic study to determine if beta-lactone synthase enzymes exist and to establish how the molecules are created in living organisms. Coming up with natural means for producing beta-lactones would likely enable broader access to this complex set of molecules and its variations, possibly leading to important advances in medicine.

There is also an education component to the Cottrell Scholar Award. Wencewicz will use some of the funding to develop a bioorganic chemistry course to modernize the chemistry curriculum at WUSTL and offer a second track of organic chemistry with an emphasis on the chemistry of life processes.

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