Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems


The biochemistry group led by Prof. Silvan Scheller focusses on energy-relevant biochemical processes.
Biochemistry group
Alkane oxidation by environmental microbes

Our research areas:

  1. Biochemical energy conversion

  2. Metabolic engineering of archaea

  3. Anaerobic biochemistry


Research themes:

We utilize biocatalytic transformations that occur in nature but that are currently not possible in classical chemistry. In order to utilize such new metabolisms and enzymes, we first need to understand them in detail. For this reason, we carry out fundamental research in microbial physiology and mechanistic enzymology.

We use metabolic engineering to construct new pathways for the conversion of CO2 to fuels.

Microbes and Enzymes:

We currently study the biochemistry and genetics of anaerobic archaea. Archaea from the deep-sea are able to convert methane or butane to CO2 and single electrons. This metabolism may be applied for new methods to interconvert alkanes to electricity at ambient temperatures. The physiology of those environmental microbes is poorly understood and no pure cultures of them are available, preventing an industrial application. Our goal is to understand their biochemistry and the way how they are able to generate ATP from this process, in order to utilize this metabolism.

The first metabolic step is catalyzed by the enzyme methyl-coenzyme M reductase (Mcr) that converts alkanes to alkyl-thioethers via an unknown mechanism. Chemists are not able to perform such a reaction in the laboratory, which may change once we understand how nature is doing it.

Methodologies and Tools:

We perform genetic engineering with methanogens of the orders Methanosarcinales and Methanococcales. Due to their oxygen sensitivity, all manipulations are carried out in anaerobic chambers or incubators. Methanosarcina species are utilized as model organisms for the environmental process of alkane oxidation with release of single electrons. Methanococcus maripaludis is utilized as a genetic work horse for the expression of archaeal proteins and for designing new metabolic pathways.

We conduct mechanistic studies with enzymes purified from Methanothermobacter marburgensis, a methanogen that grows at 65 °C to high cell densities, allowing to access large amounts of native enzymes and cofactors. This organism is currently the only source to obtain the enzyme Mcr in the active form, which is prerequisite to study its catalytic mechanism. Biochemistry is studied by a range of different methods, such as: anaerobic expression of enzymes, experiments with isolated cofactors, kinetic studies, measurement of equilibria, electrochemistry, synthesis of substrate analogues, isotope effects, NMR and EPR studies, DFT calculations.

Prof. Silvan Scheller

We are an interdisciplinary group of people who try to be game-changers.

Professor Silvan Scheller, head of the research group
Labcoat and notebook

Join us!

We are looking for motivated researcher on all levels. In fact we have several open positions on all levels (MSc, PhD, Postdoc) for researchers who are ambitious and want to change the world. For further information, contact Professor Silvan Scheller ([email protected])

Open positions:

One open position for postdoctoral researchers in Enzyme Engineering or Biochemistry.

One open position for postdoctoral researchers in Microbial Physiology or Redox Biochemistry.

One open position for PhD student in Microbial Physiology or Redox Biochemistry.

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Selected publications:

  1. Artificial electron acceptors decouple archaeal methane oxidation from sulfate reduction. 2016. Science, Silvan Scheller, Hang Yu, Grayson L Chadwick, Shawn E McGlynn, Victoria J Orphan
  2. Methyl-coenzyme M reductase from methanogenic archaea: Isotope effects on the formation and anaerobic oxidation of methane. 2013. Journal of the American Chemical Society, Silvan Scheller, Meike Goenrich, Rudolf K Thauer, Bernhard Jaun
  3. Methyl-coenzyme M reductase from methanogenic archaea: isotope effects on label exchange and ethane formation with the homologous substrate ethyl-coenzyme M. 2013. Journal of the American Chemical Society, Silvan Scheller, Meike Goenrich, Rudolf K Thauer, Bernhard Jaun
  4. The key nickel enzyme of methanogenesis catalyses the anaerobic oxidation of methane. 2010. Nature, Silvan Scheller, Meike Goenrich, Reinhard Boecher, Rudolf K Thauer, Bernhard Jaun
  5. Intermediates in the Catalytic Cycle of Methyl Coenzyme M Reductase: Isotope Exchange is Consistent with Formation of a σ‐Alkane–Nickel Complex. 2010. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Silvan Scheller, Meike Goenrich, Stefan Mayr, Rudolf K Thauer, Bernhard Jaun

Latest publications:

Xanthomonas type III effectors manipulate stromules

J. L. Erickson, N. Adlung, C. Lampe, M. H. Schattat, U. Bonas 2019 MOLECULAR PLANT-MICROBE INTERACTIONS

Microbial Interconversion of Alkanes to Electricity

Silvan Scheller 2018 Frontiers in Energy Research

Trans-10, cis-12 Conjugated Linoleic Acid Induces Lipid Degradation and Attenuates Fatty Acid Desaturation in Yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Sanna Hokkanen, Ossi Pastinen, Alexander Frey 2017 Advances in Biotechnology and Microbiology

Catabolic Pathways and Enzymes Involved in Anaerobic Methane Oxidation

Silvan Scheller, Ulrich Ermler, Seigo Shima 2017 Anaerobic Utilization of Hydrocarbons, Oils, and Lipids

Engineered Hydrophobin for Biomimetic Mineralization of Functional Calcium Carbonate Microparticles

Hanna Heinonen, Päivi Laaksonen, Markus Linder, Hans-Peter Hentze 2014 Journal of Biomaterials and Nanobiotechnology
More information on our research in the Research database.
Research database
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