Scientists and engineers at Utah State University are working together to observe enzyme activity in the only effort of its kind to apply both basic and applied science for technology development.

Utah State's newly created Center for Bio-Catalysis Science and Technology was anchored with a $670,000 grant from the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, under the Centers of Excellence program.Enzymes are flexible proteins that catalyze chemical reactions using a minimal amount of energy, said Linda Powers, center director. They are made by living cells and act in living systems. Exploration of enzyme activity has broad potential applications in hazardous-waste management, industrial processes, toxicology and nutrition, as well as in medicine and molecular electronics.

Center scientists will develop special instruments to look at the enzymes, which act in fractions of time as small as a billionth of a second. The scientists will focus on examining the structure, function and energy relationships of several groups of metal-containing enzymes, Powers said.

"The biomolecules are efficient and complicated," she said. "Not all the molecule participates in the function - some portions are used to protect the enzyme in the cells.

"We need to learn which part of an enzyme is responsible for its critical function, then we can make simpler molecules that retain the function. We can design molecules to do specific things."

To do this advanced research, scientists and engineers will develop time-resolved instrumentation in cooperation with the USU Center for Space Engineering. Others helping with the research are the Utah Water Research Laboratory, Porphyrin Products Inc., Globesat Inc., and the Savannah (Ga.) River Laboratory.

Powers said the center represents the only effort in bio-catalysis that combines basic and applied science for technology development.

Powers joined the USU department of chemistry and biochemistry this year after 12 years as a research scientist at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. She holds degrees in biophysics and physics from Harvard University.