Hofferberth wins prestigious start-up funding
Assistant Professor of Chemistry John Hofferberth, who joined the Kenyon faculty this year, has received a $30,000 Faculty Start-up Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. The award, one of only ten given nationwide, will support Hofferberth-and Kenyon student collaborators-in efforts to develop a technique to engineer proteins to recognize particular chemical compounds, a process with significant applications in biochemical research.
"The Dreyfus Awards are among the most prestigious in chemistry," says Scott Cummings, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the department, who nominated Hofferberth for the grant. "They recognize quality scholarship in the undergraduate environment and reward it with funds that go 100 percent towards research."
Hofferberth is already working with one student, junior biochemistry major Amy Thurber of Lake Forest, Illinois. In the coming years, he will use funds from the Dreyfus Award to pay other student researchers during the summer.
They will attempt to use a technique called "directed molecular evolution"-a process that mimics evolution, but at an accelerated rate-to engineer an existing protein to recognize a chemical compound which they select. Chemical recognition is a ubiquitous and essential process in life, Hofferberth notes. For example, cells in the immune system produce proteins that recognize chemicals on the surface of pathogens, a key step in initiating a response to disease.
At present, scientists who need to produce a protein that recognizes a particular chemical typically do so by inoculating a laboratory animal with a form of the chemical in order to raise an immune response and harvest the resulting proteins (called antibodies). "The process is involved and costly, and it requires the sacrifice of laboratory animals," Hofferberth explains. "The technique we are working on would eliminate these liabilities."
Hofferberth received his undergraduate degree from Miami University of Ohio and his Ph.D. from Ohio State University. Before coming to Kenyon, he taught at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan.