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Peter C.K. Lau

Peter Lau

Microbial Biotechnology

Chemicals, Bioproducts and Value Creation
Through Enzyme Technology and Innovation


Principal Research Officer/Group Leader – Bioconversion & Sustainable Development

Life Sciences | NRC Aquatic and Crop Resource Portfolio | Bio-derived products

National Research Council Canada
Building Montréal - Royalmount, Room 266 |6100 Royalmount Avenue| Montreal, Quebec| H4P 2R2
Telephone: 514-496-6325 | Fax: 514-496-6265
Peter [dot] Lau [at] cnrc-nrc [dot] gc [dot] ca

“The role of the infinitely small is infinitely large.” Louis Pasteur

It has been said that without microbes life on Earth would just grind to a halt. Indeed, microbial cells on this planet represent a staggering biomass, estimated to weigh more than 50 quadrillion (50 x 1031) metric tons. This constitutes 90% of the biomass of the whole biosphere (ASM). Yet, we know so little of the microbial diversity, 99% remains to be discovered. As a silent majority, this represents a vast and genetically rich bioresource for not only novel biocatalyst discovery but new understanding of life sustaining processes and metabolism. Every sequenced microbial genome has left a legacy of uncharacterized genes or open reading frames whose functions may find useful applications in health and/or the environment.

Lignocellulose is another global biomass and a sustainable bioresource. As a natural complex of three biopolymers - cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, of approximately 40%, 25% and 20%, each of the components offers unlimited opportunities for research and innovation toward the demands for renewable energy, bioproducts and chemicals that are otherwise derived from the diminishing fossil resource.

Our Research Activities: Enzymes – where the best of two worlds (biomasses) meet.

Technological advances in biocatalyst discovery, bioprocess optimization and product recovery are important considerations for the impact of industrial or white biotechnology that promotes a wider use of microbial or bio-based production of goods and services. The scope and approaches of our research and innovation include:

  • green chemistry as a fundamental tool to address environmental protection and sustainability issues;
  • genome mining of microbial sequence databases for biocatalyst-encoding genes;
  • development of novel biocatalysts by investigating the way microbes and cell-free enzyme systems break down recalcitrant molecules or contribute to bioproduction of chemicals or biomaterials;
  • biocatalysis in polymer science and chiral chemical production;
  • genetic improvement of strains or biocatalysts e.g., thermostabilization, solvent tolerence;
  • and optimization of bioproduction through parallel multi-vessel bioreactor system.

Selected Recent Publications:


Journal Cover Collection:

  1.  Leisch, H., Shi, R., Grosse, S., Morley, K., Bergeron, H., Cygler, M., Iwaki, H., Hasegawa,Y. and Lau P.C.K. (2012) Cloning, Baeyer-Villiger biooxidations, and structures of camphor pathway 2-oxo-Δ3-4,5,5-trimethylcyclopentenylacetyl-CoA monooxygenase of Pseudomonas putida ATCC 17453. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 78:2200-2212.
  2.  Xiao, Z., Wu, M., Beauchemin, M., Groleau, D. and Lau, P.C.K. (2011) Direct fermentation of triticale starch to lactic acid by Rhizopus oryzae. Industrial Biotechnol. 7: 53-59.
  3. Leisch, H., Morley, K., and Lau, P.C.K. (2011) Baeyer-Villiger monooxygenases: More than just green chemistry. Chemical Reviews: Enzymes in Catalysis Thematic issue; 111:4165-4222.
  4. Grosse, S., Bergeron, H., Imura, A., Boyd, J., Wang, S., Kubota, K., Miyadera, A., Sulea, T., and Lau, P. C. K. (2010)  Nature versus nurture in two highly enantioselective esterases from Bacillus cereus and Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis, Microbial Biotechnol. 3: 65-73.
  5. Mirza, A., Yachnin, B.J., Wang, S., Grosse, S., Bergeron, H., Imura, A., Iwaki, H., Hasegawa,Y., Lau, P.C.K. and Berghuis., A.M. (2009) Crystal structures of cyclohexanone monooxygenase reveal complex domain movements and a sliding cofactor. JACS 131: 8848-8854.
  6. Xiao, Z., Bergeron, H., Grosse, S., Beauchemin, M., Garron, M.-L., Shaya, D., Sulea, T., Cygler, M., and Lau, P. C. K. (2008)  Improving the thermostability and activity of a pectate lyase by single aimino acid substitutions using a strategy based on TM - guided sequence alignment, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 74:1183-1189.
  7. Iwaki, H., Muraki, T., S. Ishihara,  Y. Hasegawa, K. Rankin, T. Sulea, J. Boyd, and Lau, P.C.K. (2007). Characterization of 2-nitrobenzoate catabolic genes nbaAB encoding a novel 2-nitrobenzoate nitroreductase and a 2-hydroxylaminobenzoate mutase, and their adjacent chemotactic gene nbaY in Pseudomonas fluorescens strain KU-7.  J. Bacteriol. 189: 3502-3514.

Outreach Articles:

  1. Lau, P.C.K. (2008) Six degrees change a protein. Europe BioForum. 12, 29-31.
  2. Lau, P.C.K. and  Jaworski, J. (2003). A Forum article: Industrial sustainability through biotechnology ASM Newsmagazine (vol. 69, 110-111, 2003) URL: http://sustsci.aaas.org/files/lau_asm03.pdf  
  3. Lau, P.C.K. and de Lorenzo, V (1999).  Genetic engineering: The frontier of bioremediation. Environ. Sci. Technol. 130: 124A-128A (reference in ES&T News & Research Notes, vol. 4, same pages).

Other Selected Publications:

  1. Yachnin, B.J., T. Sprules, M. McEvoy, P.C.K. Lau, and A.M. Berghuis. (2012) The substrate-bound crystal structute of a Baeyer-Villiger monooxygenase exhibits a Criegee-like conformation. JACS  134:7788-7795
  2. Pendyala, B., Chaganti, S.R., Lalman, J.A., Shanmugam, S.R., Heath, D.D., Lau, P.C.K. (2012) Pretreating mixed anaerobic communities from different sources: Correlating the hydrogen yield with hydrogenase activity and microbial diversity. Int. J Hydrogen Energy (in press).
  3. Leisch H., Grosse, S., Iwaki, H., Hasegawa, Y., and Lau, P.C.K. (2012) Cyclohexylamine oxidase as a useful biocatalyst for the kinetic resolution and deracemization of amines. Can J. Chem. 90:39-45. 
  4. Wu, M., Abokitse, K., Grosse, S., Leisch, H., and Lau, P.C.K. (2012) New feruloyl esterases to access phenolic acids from grass biomass. Appl. Biochem. Biotechnol. Doi 10.1007/S12010-011-9359-z.
  5. Xiao, Z., Bergeron, H., and Lau, P.C.K. (2012) Alternaria alternata as a new fungal enzyme system for the release of phenolic acids from wheat and triticale brans. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Journal of Microbiology. 101:837-844.
  6. Hu, W., Ton-that, Minh-Tan, Denault, J., Rho, D., Yang, J. and Lau, P.C.K. (2012) Comparison between dew-retted and enzyme-retted flax fibers as reinforcing material for composites. Polymer Engineering & Science, 52:165-171.
  7. Lau, P.C.K., Leisch, H., Yachnin, B.J., Mirza, I.A., Berghuis, A.M., Iwaki, H., and Hasegawa, Y. (2010) Sustained development in Baeyer-Villiger Biooxidation technology. In Green Polymer Chemistry: Biocatalysis and Biomaterials. (H.N. Cheng and R. Gross, eds) ACS Symposium Series vol. 1043. Chapter 24, 343-372.
  8. Matte, A., Grosse, S., Bergeron, H., Abokitse, K., and Lau, P.C.K. (2010) Structural analysis of Bacillus pumilus phenolic acid decarboxylase, a lipocalin-fold enzyme. Acta Crystallographica Sect. F. F66, 1407-1414
  9. Abokitse, K., Wu, M., Bergeron, H., Grosse, S., and Lau, P. C. K. (2010)  Thermostable feruloyl esterase for the bioproduction of ferulic acid from triticale bran. Appl. Microbiol. Biotech. 87: 195-203.
  10. Beneventi E., G. Ottolina, G. Carrea, W. Panzeri, G. Fronza, and Lau, P. C.K.(2009) Enzymatic Baeyer-Villiger oxidation of steroids. J. Mol. Catalysis B. Enzym 58: 164-168.
  11. Lamm, A.S., Conville, P., Lau, P.C.K., Bergeron, H., and Rosazza, J.P.N. (2009). Characterization of Nocardia iowensis: An organism rich in biocatalytically important enzymes and nitric oxide synthase. Internat J Systematic and Evol Microbiol  59: 2408-2414.
  12. Yang, J., Wang, S., Lorrain, M.J., Rho, D., Abokitse, K. and Lau, P.C.K. (2009) Bioproduction of lauryl lactone and 4-vinyl guaiacol as value-added chemicals in two-phase biotransformation systems. Appl. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 84: 867-876.
  13. Xiao, Z., Wang, S., Bergeron, H., Zhang, J., and Lau, P.C.K. (2008) A flax-retting endopolygalacturonase-encoding gene from Rhizopus oryzae, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  Journal of Microbiology. 94:563-571.            
  14. Xiao, Z., Boyd, J., Grosse, S., Beauchemin, M., Coupe, E., and Lau, P. C. K. (2008) Mining Xanthomonas and Streptomyces genomes for new pectinase-encoding sequences and their heterologous expression in Escherichia coli, Appl. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 78(6):973-981.
  15. Keane, A. Lau, P.C.K. and Ghoshal, S. (2008). Use of a whole-cell biosensor to assess the bioavailability enhancement of aromatic hydrocarbon compounds by nonionic surfactants. Biotech. Bioeng. 99: 86-98.
  16. Iwaki, H., S. Wang, S. Grosse, H. Bergeron, A. Nagahashi, J. Lertvorachon, J. Yang, Y. Konishi, Y. Hasegawa, and P.C.K. Lau (2006). Pseudomonad cyclopentadecanone monooxygenase displaying an uncommon spectrum of Baeyer-Villiger oxidations of cyclic ketones. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 72:2707-2720.
  17. Yang, J., Lorrain, M.J., Rho, D. and Lau, P.C.K. (2006). Monitoring of Baeyer-Villiger  biotransformation kinetics and fingerprinting using ReactIR 4000 spectroscopy. Industrial Biotech. 2: 138-142.
  18. Phoenix, P., Keane, A., Patel, A., Bergeron, H., Ghoshal, S., and Lau, P. C. K (2003). Characterization of a new solvent-responsive gene locus in Pseudomonas putida F1 and its functionalization as a versatile biosensor. Environ. Microbiol. 5: 1309-1327.
  19. Wang, S.; Kayser, M. M.; Iwaki, H.; Lau, P. C. K. (2003) Monooxygenase-catalyzed Baeyer-Villiger oxidations:  CHMO vs CPMO. Journal of Mol. Catalysis B: Enzymatic  22: 211-218.
  20. McLaughlin, R.W., Vali, H., Lau, P.C.K., Palfree, R.G.E., De Ciccio, A., Sirois, M., Ahmad, D., Villemur, R., Desrosiers, M., and Chan, E.C.S. (2003) Are there naturally occurring pleomorphic bacteria in the blood of healthy humans. J. Clin. Microbiol. 40(12) 4771-4775.
  21. Bielanski, A.; Bergeron, H.; Lau, P. C. K.; Devenish, J. (2003) Microbial contamination of embryos and semen during long term banking in liquid nitrogen. Cryobiology  46:146-152
  22. Keane, A., Phoenix, P., and Lau, P.C.K (2002). Exposing culprit organic pollutants: A review. J. Microbiol. Methods, 49: 103-119.