Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Darensbourg, Marcetta Y.
Location Texas A&M University-College Station
Primary Field Chemistry
 Election Citation
Darensbourg is an early creator of the field of bioorganometallic chemistry. She pioneered utilizing the structures and concepts of organometallic chemistry to provide a deep understanding of the properties of hydrogen-producing and hydrogen-activating enzymes, leading to viable models that perform these basic catalytic functions in small molecule chemistry.
 Research Interests
The well-known metals in biology on oxygen-rich Earth that govern life processes as biocatalysts in enzymes or as structural elements, are typically bound within complicated organic ligands by oxygen and nitrogen, sometimes sulfur, donors to the trace transition metal ions. As holdovers from an age when earth was under a reducing atmosphere, some enzymes in microorganisms that perform reductive reactions, contain iron, sometimes nickel, stabilized in low-valent states by simple diatomic molecules such as carbon monoxide and cyanide, and involve two metals bridged by sulfur. Marcetta Darensbourg, her group and her collaborators design, synthesize and characterize inorganic/organometallic compounds that mimic the active sites of hydrogenases; they uncover molecular features critical to structure and function of these evolutionarily perfected biocatalysts for hydrogen metabolism. Such small molecular models, even without the protein superstructure, show some activity as electrocatalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction, fulfilling a goal in base metal catalysis involving metal hydrides. Nature's control of the diatomics, CO and cyanide, obviates a poisoning effect on the microorganism host, and suggests their genesis on iron. Applying the tenets and principles of organometallic chemistry, the group explores another poisonous diatomic, nitric oxide, in dinitrosyl iron complexes produced from NO-overload from iron sulfur clusters.

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