Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Charlotte Morrill, reports from The Netherlands

08 August 2019

8 Aug 2019

Charlotte Morrill was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 14th International Symposium on Biocatalysis and Biotransformations (BioTrans 2019) in Groningen, Netherlands. Here she tells us about the excellent programme of lectures, how she improved her skills in her poster presentation and about the opportunity to meet with chemists in the same field from around the world.

‘I am currently a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester working under the supervision of Professor David Procter and Professor Nicholas Turner. I was awarded an SCI Messel travel bursary to attend and participate in the BioTrans2019 conference at the Martiniplaza centre in Groningen, Netherlands.

‘The BioTrans conference is an international symposium on the topics of biocatalysis and biotransformations, at the interface of chemistry and biology. The meeting is held biennially and has grown to be one of the largest conferences in the field of biocatalysis since its commencement in Graz in 1993. This meeting, the 14th instance of the conference, attracted participants from both academia and industry worldwide.

‘The conference offered an excellent programme of keynote lectures, invited speakers and short talks. The programme spanned four days, with lectures focusing on a different topic each day; fields of study included new enzymes, cascade reactions and enzyme engineering. I found the lectures on chemozenymatic synthesis and the development of new enzymatic reactions to be of particular interest. One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote lecture given by Professor Frances Arnold (California Institute of Technology, USA), winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for her work on directed evolution of enzymes. Her lecture, titled ‘Innovation by Evolution: Bringing New Chemistry to Life’ was based on the history of her work, the discoveries that earned the Nobel Prize and the pioneering research that is being conducted in her group.

‘Recent developments in the field of biocatalysis were shared by eminent academic researchers, including Professor Donald Hilvert (ETH Zurich, Switzerland), Professor Helen Hailes (University College London, UK) and Professor Wolfgang Kroutil (University of Graz, Austria). In addition to the outstanding invited speakers, short talks were given by researchers from both industrial and academic laboratories. This gave the opportunity to hear about the broad and exciting range of research that is ongoing in the field. The BioTrans committee awards prizes to academics who have delivered outstanding research in their field. This year the prizes were awarded to Professor Dörte Rother (BioTrans Junior Award) and Professor Dick Janssen (BioTrans Senior Award), who delivered fantastic award lectures. Poster sessions took place over two days, with over 520 poster presentations.

‘The research that I have been conducting during my PhD has an interdisciplinary focus, combining the fields of organic chemistry and biocatalysis. The topic of my work is the integration of enzymatic catalysts into reaction sequences involving small molecule catalysts and reagents, in order to exploit the distinct advantages of the two processes and access enantiomerically enriched biologically relevant scaffolds. As my work spans these two fields, the BioTrans conference was an ideal setting to present my work.

‘I presented a poster showing my work entitled ‘Biocatalytic Conversion of Cyclic Ketones Bearing α-Quaternary Stereocentres to Lactones in an Enantioselective Radical Approach to Medium-Sized Carbocycles’. My poster was well received and taking part in the session allowed me to develop my presentation skills. It stimulated many interesting discussions and inspired possible avenues for future research. Being the first international conference that I have had the opportunity to attend, experience of presenting at this conference was invaluable for me. The poster session was also a great opportunity to meet other chemists in the same field and discuss cutting edge science that is taking place in laboratories around the world.

‘The Biotrans meeting series remains one of the highlights of the biocatalyisis conference calendar. I would highly recommend attendance at future conferences in this series to other postgraduate students and researchers, given the high quality of research that is brought together. The organisation of the conference, by Professor Marco Fraaije and Professor Gerrit Poelarends from the University of Groningen, was excellent. In addition to the fantastic conference programme, attendees were given the opportunity to experience the culture of the area, through excursions around the city and by trying the local cuisine.

‘I would like to gratefully acknowledge the SCI for the generous funding that I received to support my attendance at the BioTrans conference. The meeting broadened my knowledge of the research in the field of biocatalysis and the state-of-the-art technology that is being developed. It also gave an excellent opportunity for networking which will undoubtedly help my future career. I would also like to thank my supervisors Professor Procter and Professor Turner for their support throughout my PhD, as well as their guidance with the work that was presented at this conference.’

Charlotte Morrill
PhD student
University of Manchester

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