Dr. Thanyaporn Wongnate is a faculty member at the school of Biomolecular Science and Engineering, Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology (VISTEC), Thailand. She was a recipient of the Junior Science Talent Project (JSTP), a program sponsored by National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), Thailand, from high school through to Ph.D. She obtained her Ph.D from Department of Biochemistry, Mahidol University in 2011 under the supervision of Prof. Pimchai Chaiyen. Her Ph.D. thesis and one-year post-doctoral research at Mahidol University investigated functional roles of key catalytic residues of the enzyme pyranose 2-oxidase using various techniques including pre-steady state kinetics, steady state kinetics, kinetic isotope effects, thermodynamics, kinetic simulations and computational chemistry. Her thesis contributed significantly to the understanding of mechanism of sugar oxidation and oxygen activation. Dr. Wongnate did another post-doctoral research training with Prof. Stephen W. Ragsdale at Department of Biological Chemistry, University of Michigan. Her postdoctoral research investigated the reaction mechanism of methyl-coenzyme M reductase, the enzyme that is responsible for biological methane production and anaerobic methane oxidation. Using various biophysical techniques,Dr. Thanyaporn identified a key intermediate and elucidated the mechanism involved in the reaction of this enzyme, contributing to fundamental insights into this enzyme which is useful for developing a biocatalyst for the production of bioenergy.
Dr. Wongnate has published several papers in high-impact journals. Her recent work with methylcoenzyme M reductase was published in Science (2016) and J. Biol. Chem. (2015). Her work in pyranose 2-oxidase, which was carried out mainly in Thailand, resulted in many papers that are well regarded in the field including an article that was published in Journal of the American Chemical Society (2014).
She also wrote reviews on reaction mechanisms of pyranose 2-oxidase and methyl-coenzyme M. Her research interest is at the interfaces between chemistry, biology, and physics. Her research theme focuses on studying the processes that are important in the global carbon cycle, bioenergy, and biorefinery. It uses a multidisciplinary approach in biophysical and biological chemistry as well as enzyme engineering.
Summary of research
Our group is interested in research the fields of bioenergy and biorefinery because we believe that bioenergy research can contribute significantly to global energy demand in the future. Our research focuses on bio-based method to produce two key molecules, methane and hydrogen which are sustainable bioenergy sources. In addition, we believe that large volume of biomass can be processed to produce valuable products which will be used progressively to make other bioproducts. We cover the entire spectrum from fundamental research applications to industrial uses and innovations, which can be summarized below.
1. Sugar Conversion Platform
The sugar industry is an important agro-processing industry in Thailand, with the advantage of using domestic raw materials to be processed into sugar products to meet the domestic consumption needs. Products from excess sugar production can be exported to generate more income for sugar mills. The Thai sugarcane and sugar industries have grown to achieve stability along with obtaining massive excess production and have become the world’s second largest sugar exporter. During the time of floating sugar price, which was low in the world market, both, public and private sectors were interested in the use of enzymes to accelerate the synthesis of high value products or chemicals. Moreover, the use of solvents and chemicals that are toxic to the environment could be reduced through this process. Hence, our research team is interested in developing innovative enzymes to accelerate the synthesis of high value products or chemicals, in order to enable Thailand to strongly compete globally and continue to grow for a sustainable strength.
2. Enzyme for bioenergy and biochemical production
Long-chain alcohols are valuable chemicals used in manufacturing detergents, surfactants, additives, and personal care products. Moreover, their long-chain hydrocarbons have also been used as potential precursors for biofuel production. Currently, fatty alcohols can be distilled from natural resources which are not green processes, leading to concerns about environmental problems. Owing to the fact that Aldehyde Deformylating Oxygenase catalyzes the conversion of fatty aldehydes to alkanes/alkenes, this enzyme has been considerably attractive for hydrocarbon biosynthesis. Moreover, we have shown, for the first time, that Aldehyde Deformylating Oxygenase exhibits an unusual activity to reduce fatty aldehydes to fatty alcohols. This feature has made the Aldehyde Deformylating Oxygenase a more versatile catalyst.
3. Smart detection
Thailand is being a country of agricultural industry that has been exporting agricultural products to foreign countries. There are consistent problems of using inappropriate amounts of agricultural and livestock chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, and β-agonist. The accumulation of these substances in the body can result in subsequent health problems. In addition to illnesses from receiving toxic residues in these foods, agricultural and livestock products that are contaminated with chemicals also adversely affect the export of goods to foreign countries with strict control laws. Hence, safe food which is free from contamination of agricultural and livestock chemicals is a great need to raise our agricultural products to a higher value, and be able to export them to foreign countries, along with building confidence and trust for the consumers. This can be ensured by the measurement of contamination of residual agricultural chemicals left in the products. Therefore, the measurement of residues in agricultural products is very important to make the product reliable and consumers are confident that the products are safe to eat. These mentioned details are the origin of our invention that focuses on the measurement of pesticide contamination in vegetables, fruits, and β-antagonist that are often found in red meats. The invention has been created as a measurement kit that everyone can use easily, which is also inexpensive, accurate and can provide rapid results.
4. Turning Food Waste into Value Added Products
The survey conducted in 2017 by the Pollution Control Department (PCD) of Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment revealed that municipal solid waste generated throughout the country was as high as 27.37 Million tons per year or 74,998 tons per day, a quantity that affects ecological systems at both the community and national levels, where this number is also increasing every year. For this reason, the research aims to find ways to efficiently eliminate and covert municipal solid waste into value-added substances through biological fermentation technology, using microorganisms with high efficiency derived from various sources in Thailand. The research team selected natural inocula in order to create a high-efficiency inoculum in the laboratory and at pilot scale to carry out conversion of food waste into biogas and hydrogen gas, which are clean energy and high-quality fuels that can be used as an alternative fuel. The research team has recently implemented this technology for real application by setting up 200-litre food waste digestion systems in Nan province and Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to support the community in learning about waste segregation and to bring renewable energy to the people. The research team has installed the food waste digestion systems with high-efficiency inoculum that produces methane gas as high as 70-80%. In addition, the research team has also promoted more ‘waste segregation from source’ by encouraging members of the community to bring their segregated household waste to exchange for biofertilizer produced from this research technology, which in turn adds value to their agricultural cultivation. This also helps the research team to increase the quantity of organic wastes as starting materials to produce more value-added products.