Dr. Pimchai Chaiyen is Professor and Dean of School of Biomolecular Science and Engineering, Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology (VISTEC), Thailand. She is passionate about science and believes that science and technology are vital for the development of Thai economy and society.
Dr. Chaiyen’s research interests are in the broad areas of enzyme catalysis, enzyme engineering, systems biocatalysis, metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. Her group studies flavin-dependent, PLP-dependent, redox and aldolase enzymes. They have contributed significantly to the understanding of many fundamental aspects of these systems including mechanisms of oxygen activation by flavoenzymes, reduced flavin transfer between proteins, oxygenation and oxidation by flavin-dependent enzymes. Their research contributes to applications in green chemistry, white biotechnology, biofuels, biorefinery, biosensors and bioimaging. With the mission to translate their scientific discoveries into real applications, her group has collaborations with several private sector entities and also founded their own startup, Enzmart Biotech, in 2016.
Prof. Pimchai Chaiyen
Dr. Chaiyen is one of the most accomplished researchers in Thailand. She has received numerous awards including the L'oreal-Unesco Fellowship for Woman in Science in Thailand (2003), Young Scientist Award (2005) and Young Biochemist and Molecular Biologist Award from The Science Society of Thailand (2008), Taguchi Prize for Outstanding Research Achievement in Biotechnology (2010), TRF-CHE-Scopus Researcher Award from The Thailand Research Fund (2010), Outstanding Researcher Award (Chemical Science and Pharmacy) from the National Research Council of Thailand (2012), and Outstanding Scientist of Thailand (2015), the country’s highest honor in science. Other recent awards include BioTalk Plenary Award from Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering Society of Taiwan (BEST) and the first place in business pitching competition from “Leaders in Innovation Fellowship” by Royal Academy of Engineering and Newton Fund, UK.
Dr. Chaiyen serves as an editorial board member and referee for many high profile international journals, and also as a reviewer in many national and international granting agencies. She was the chairperson of the organizing committee of IUBMB 18th International Symposium on Flavins and Flavoproteins (2014).
She regularly participates in activities to promote interest in science among the young generation, and gave a TEDx talk in 2015.
Our research interests span enzyme catalysis,enzyme engineering, systems biocatalysis, metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. We cover the entire spectrum from fundamental research applications to industrial uses and innovations. We are committed to cutting-edge scientific research and development of technologies for green chemistry, white biotechnology, biofuels, biorefinery, biosensors and bio-imaging. In this endeavor, we collaborate with several private sector entities in Thailand. Our group has also established a startup venture, Enzmart Biotech.
Our group is credited with pioneering research on more than 30 enzymatic reactions, including flavin-dependent, PLP-dependent, redox and aldolase enzymes. We have also engineered several metabolic pathways for applications of “cell factories” in bioindustry and engineered cells for detection applications. We have expertise in rapid kinetics, advanced spectroscopy, theoretical and structural studies to study biophysical principles underlying each enzymatic system. We employ integrated methodology such as enzyme engineering, metabolic engineering and synthetic biology to turn our enzymes into practical uses
Enzymes are catalysts that are vital for all organisms to maintain their cellular activities. Understanding enzyme reaction mechanisms has tremendous significance in drug discovery, because species-specific enzyme inhibition leads to achievement of therapeutic goals. Enzymes are also very useful in industry because they can increase rates of reactions enormously. Enzyme-catalyzed reactions also require much lower activation energy. Since enzymes’ catalytic power originates from specificity around active sites, reactions catalyzed by enzymes are also advantageous in that they give regio- and stereo-specific products. With the chemical industry seeking to reduce its energy and environmental footprint, the demand for utilizing enzymes as green biocatalysts to synthesize specialty compounds in food, chemical and pharmaceutical industries has increased greatly.
Our current research can be classified into four main themes.
(using enzymes in synthesis of valuable chemicals). The chemicals industry is under pressure to conserve energy, reduce CO2 emissions and minimize toxic waste so as to reduce environmental damage. Biocatalysis is the use of enzymatic reactions in the forms of isolated enzymes or in whole cells to catalyze chemical reactions. The use of enzymatic reactions in chemical production can contribute to greener and cleaner industries. With the catalytic power of enzymes, the process can be operated under mild pH and temperature and avoid creation of hazardous intermediates and waste.
The enzymes being investigated in our group with potential applications in these areas include flavin-dependent oxygenases, halogenases, dehalogenases, oxidases, metaldependent oxygenases and aldolases, and PLP-dependent aldolases. Substrates for these enzymes are mostly aromatic compounds, sugars and amino acid that are derived from biomass.
(Engineer cells to perform useful tasks).Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems. Research in this field is multidisciplinary by nature and employs engineering approach to construct and put together new or engineered biomolecular units such enzymes, genetic circuits, metabolic pathways, etc. In general, the assembly of these biomolecular parts and devices is performed to solve specific problems or accomplish specific goals.
Synthetic biology projects in our group focuses on using state-of-the-art technology to construct engineered cells or new metabolic pathways that are useful for turning “Waste to Value” or “Trash to Treasure”. Specific projects include Cell and Metabolic Engineering to convert organic waste from household and agricultural industries into biofuels such as propane, butane and gasoline. We hope to develop the technology that is useful for sustainable waste management, improve economic status and standard of living for poor people, supply alternative energy and contribute to Thailand energy security policy.
(Develop detection tools based on biomolecules). Nature is smart and beautiful. Some of enzymatic reactions studied by our group can generate signals such as light or electricity output. These reactions can be linked to detection of specific molecules including genes related to diseases or pesticides contaminated in environment and food.
We have developed bioreporting technologies based on enzymatic reactions of luciferases or enzymes that can emit blue, green or orange light. These reactions can be used as in vivo cell monitoring tools for specific gene or disease detection in experimental animals. We also have developed proprietary technology that can be used to detect toxic compounds such as pesticides or herbicides contaminated in agricultural products and in environment.
Enzymes structures and mechanisms
(Discover frontier knowledge to support technology development). Enzymes are catalysts that are vital for all organisms to maintain their cellular activities. Understanding enzyme reaction mechanisms has tremendous significance in technology development.
Our research group has long been recognized for our pioneer work in discovery of in-depth understanding of the reaction mechanisms of selected redox and aldolase enzymes. We use multi-disciplinary approach and a wide range of physical and biochemical tools and techniques such as transient kinetics, spectroscopy, structural biology and computational chemistry for studying enzymatic reactions. Knowledge acquired is very instrumental for development of applications in other research focus areas in #1-3.