Primary reseach interest

Physical chemistry - structure, function, mechanism and pharmaceutical potential of metalloenzymes

Additional roles

  • Group leader in protein chemistry and enzymology
  • Member of UQ's Latin American Study Group (LASG) - representative for the Faculty of Science

About me

I obtained a Diploma in Chemistry from the University of Berne in Switzerland in 1992. Upon receiving the award of an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) I joined The University of Queensland (in 1993) to carry out research towards a PhD in Biochemistry (supervisors: Assoc. Profs. Peter Nixon and Ron Duggleby). I graduated in 1997 and continued postdoctoral research at The University of Queensland under the guidance of Profs John de Jersey, Susan Hamilton and Graeme Hanson. During this period I was awarded Fellowships from both the Wellcome Trust and The University of Queensland.  In 2000 I spent several months in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, collaborating with Prof. Geoff Sykes, and later that year I commenced a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Chemistry Department at Stanford University (advisor: Prof. Edward Solomon). In 2003 I was appointed to a Lectureship in (Bio)physical Chemistry at The University of Queensland. In 2006 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer.  Following the award of a University of Queensland Foundation Research Excellence Award (in 2007) I was promoted to Associate Professor (in 2009). Since 2011 I also hold a professorial appointment at the National University of Ireland - Maynooth (NUIM). Most recently, in 2012, I have been awarded an ARC Future Fellowship (commences in April 2013).

Research focus and collaborations

My research lies at the interface between biochemistry, and biotechnology, inorganic and physical chemistry. Methodologies applied range from protein expression, purification and characterisation, mutagenesis, steady- and pre-steady-state enzyme kinetics to various types of molecular spectroscopy. Local collaborators are Profs Luke Guddat, Ross McGeary, Lawrence Gahan, Graeme Hanson, Mark Riley, Paul Meredith.

Specifically, I am interested in the study of the reaction mechanisms of enzymes requiring metal ions for their catalytic function. In particular, my current research focuses on a group of binuclear metallohdrolases, which play crucial roles in a variety of metabolic functions, including bone and collagen resorption, prevention of oxidative damage, correction of errors in DNA replication and cell proliferation. Some of these enzymes¸the metallo-β-lactamases, are also major contributors to the growing emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. My aim is to gain detailed insight into the geometric and electronic structures of these enzymes to develop and design transition state analogues and specific inhibitors of chemotherapeutic and medicinal significance.

I am also interested in enzymes that degrade organophosphate pesticides and nerve agents. These enzymes have gained increasing attention due to their great potential as bioremediators and anti-warfare agents (collaboration with Prof. David Ollis, ANU).

Studies on protein systems are complemented by studies on relevant model complexes (biomimetics; collaboration with Prof. L. Gahan, UQ). In addition to these predominantly mechanistic investigations I also engage in comparative studies to define sequence and structural fingerprints that contribute to metal ion selectivity in protein active sites, and I am interested in evolving enzymatic activities in vitro to perform desired tasks (collaboration with Prof. D. Ollis, ANU). Last but not least, I am also interested in probing the factors that contribute to functional promiscuity in enzyme-catalysed reactions, a phenomenon that has attracted increasing significance since it also harbours the potential to tune enzymes to perform particular tasks that may be beneficial to a variety of applications.

International research collaborations

  • Prof. Ademir Neves, Universidade de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Brazil
  • Prof. Jim Larrabee, Middlebury College, Middlebury, USA
  • Prof. Alvan Hengge, Utah State University, Logan, USA
  • Prof. Stefano Ciurli, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
  • Prof. Peter Comba, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  • Prof. Adolfo Horn, Universidade Estadual de Norte Fluminense, Fluminense, Brazil

Funded projects

  • NHMRC Project Grant 2015-2017, An integrated approach to combat antibiotic resistance
  • NHMRC Project Grant 2010-2012, Metallo-β-lactamases: predicting and combating antibiotic resistance, Total value of grant: $512,000
  • ARC Discovery Grant 2012-2014, Organophosphate pesticide degradation: evolved enzymes and biomimetics for bioremediation and medicine, Total value of grant: $285,000
  • ARC Future Fellowship 2013-2017, Metals in biocatalysis, Total value of grant: $821,000

Teaching interests

Bio-physical and bio-inorganic chemistry including chemical and enzyme kinetics, thermodynamics, and chemical equilibrium, as well as bioinorganic chemistry and electron paramagnetic resonance.

Student supervision

  • PhD Students (15): S. Smith, K. Hadler, E. Leung, F. Ely, P. Vella, A. Kan, L. Daumann, S. Wong, A. Bhumkar, N. Pue, M. M. Pedroso, D. Feder, S.H. Mohd-Pahmi, O. Arjomandi, D. Tan
  • Honours (11): L. McDonald, P. Herrald, T. Elliott, P. Lee, S. Wong, R. Aston, R. Buchholz, R. Mirams, P. Vella, M. Zee, B. McCarthy, D. Feder, L. Sung

Achievements and awards

  • Member, The Royal Australian Chemical Institute
  • Member, The Society of Bioinorganic Chemistry
  • Award, UQ Strategic Research Fellowship (2000)
  • Award, UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award (2007)
  • Award, ARC Future Fellowship (2012)

Featured publications

Publications by Gary Schenk

Researcher biography

I obtained a Diploma in Chemistryfrom theUniversity of Bernin Switzerland in 1992. Upon receiving the award of an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) I joined The University of Queensland (UQ) in 1993 to carry out research towards a PhD in Biochemistry(supervisors: Assoc. Profs. Peter Nixon and Ron Duggleby). I graduated in 1997 and continued postdoctoral research at UQ under the guidance of Profs John de Jersey, Susan Hamilton and Graeme Hanson. During this period, I was awarded Fellowships from both the Wellcome Trust and UQ. In 2000 I spent several months in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, collaborating with Prof. Geoff Sykes, and later that year I commenced a Senior Postdoctoral Fellowshipin the Chemistry Department at Stanford University(advisor: Prof. Edward Solomon). In 2003 I was appointed to a Lectureship in (Bio)Physical Chemistry at UQ. In 2006 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer. Following the award of a UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award (in 2007) I was promoted to Associate Professor(in 2008), and between 2011 and 2013 I was also on a fractional professorial appointment (50%) at Maynooth University, Ireland. From 2013 to 2017 I held a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, and during this period I was promoted to Full Professor at UQ (2015). I also hold affiliate professorships in the Sustainable Minerals Institute and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, both located at UQ.

I have successfully focused my research on the investigation of enzyme-catalysed reactions, their optimisation for applications in biotechnology and the synthesis of small molecules that mimic their structure and catalytic function (i.e. biomimetics). I advanced understanding of the contribution of metals to enzyme-catalysed reactions and employed state-of-the-art technologies (e.g. cryo-EM, ancestral gene reconstruction) to develop enzyme inhibitors as leads for novel biocides (herbicides, fungicides, antibacterial compounds) and engineer enzymes with enhanced catalytic properties for industrial applications in the advanced manufacturing sector (i.e. cell-free enzyme cascades, next-gen fertilisers). My seminal work into enzyme mechanisms, regulation and engineering received international acclaim evidenced by invitations to provide plenary and keynote lectures and review articles in prestigious journals. I have published over 230 peer-reviewed articles, including nearly 40 papers in the ACS staple (J. Am. Chem. Soc, ACS Catalysis, ACS Sus. Chem. Eng., Inorg. Chem, Chem. Rev., Acc. Chem. Rev.) as well as landmark studies in Nature, Nature Catalysis, Nature Communications and Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (USA). For my leadership in enzymology I was awarded a Future Fellowship by the Australian Research Council, a Foundation Research Excellence Award by UQ and, most recently, the prestigious role as Ambassador for the Technical University of Munich (TUM), an honour bestowed upon me also for my leading role in building an extensive network of collaborations between UQ and TUM in the areas of bioengineering and bioeconomy. The network has since evolved into the Global Bioeconomy Alliance.