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Catherine L. Drennan

Cathy Drennan seeks to understand how Nature harnesses and re-directs the reactivity of enzyme metallocenters in order to perform challenging reactions. By combining X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy with other biophysical methods, a goal of the Drennan laboratory is to “visualize” molecular processes by obtaining snapshots of enzymes in action. Some of the proteins studied are newly characterized, but many are well studied but have eluded structural characterization due to issues of oxygen sensitivity, conformational flexibility or structural complexity. Her laboratory has specialized in tackling and solving these more challenging problems in structural biology. Early in her independent career, Drennan determined one of the two first structures of carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH), and the first structure of the 310-kDa bi-functional carbon monoxide dehydrogenase/acetyl-CoA synthase (CODH/ACS) enzyme complex, the latter in collaboration with Ragsdale, U Michigan. These long-awaited structures provided snapshots of the amazing multiple-metal centers known as the A- and C-clusters, responsible for the ability of microbes to live on carbon dioxide by converting it into acetyl-CoA in a process known as acetogenesis. These structural data prompted an upsurge in bioinorganic-model chemistry and mechanistic enzymology on this system, which is currently being pursued as an avenue for producing biofuels from carbon dioxide. 


Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)

Searle Scholar Award

Alfred P. Sloan Fellow

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professo

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Relevant Publications

Gibson, M.I., Chen, P. Y.-T., Johnson, A.C., Pierce, E. Can, M., Ragsdale, S.W., Drennan, C.L. (2016) One carbon chemistry of oxalate oxidoreductase captured by X-ray crystallography, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 113, 320-325. PMCID: PMC4720323

Kung, Y., Ando, N., Doukov, T.I., Blasiak, L.C., Bender, G., Seravalli, J., Ragsdale, S.W., and Drennan, C.L. (2012) Visualising Molecular Juggling within a B12-dependent Methyltransferase Complex, Nature 484, 265-269. PMCID: PMC332619

Doukov, T.I., Iverson, T.M., Seravalli, J., Ragsdale, S.W., and Drennan, C.L. (2002) A Ni-Fe-Cu Center in a Bifunctional Carbon Monoxide Dehydrogenase/Acetyl-CoA Synthase, Science 298, 567?572.

Drennan, C.L., Heo, J., Sintchak, M.D., Schreiter, E., and Ludden, P.W. (2001) Life on Carbon Monoxide: X-ray Structure of Rhodospirillum rubrum Ni-Fe-S Carbon Monoxide Dehydrogenase, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 98, 11973?11978. PMCID: PMC59822



Senior Fellow Bio-inspired Solar Energy


Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyHoward Hughes Medical Institute


Ph.D. (Biochemistry) University of Michigan

A.B. (Chemistry) Vassar College


United States

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