Vincent L. Pecoraro

John T. Groves Collegiate Professor of Chemistry
Research Scientist, Biophysics

Ph.D., University of California–Berkeley
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Wisconsin - Madision

Research Focus: The Role of Metals in Biology

Phone: 734.763.1519
E-mail: vlpec@umich.edu

Our research group works on two major projects: one in bioinorganic chemistry and one in the preparation and characterization of inorganic clusters. Students can receive training in synthetic inorganic chemistry and physical characterization of molecules [X-ray crystallography, NMR (multidimensional, paramagnetic and heteronuclear such as 113Cd, 199Hg, or 207Pb), electrochemistry, EPR and UV-visible spectroscopy, etc.] or emphasize more biologically related topics. In the latter case, students gain experience in molecular biology as well as in the physical techniques described above.

The group has worked extensively to understand the role of metals in biological systems via a technique called de novo protein design, which attempts to build proteins “from scratch”. This  bottom-up approach aims to understand the properties of proteins from first principles. We have published multiple studies dealing with heavy metal complexation by peptides in order to define mechanisms of heavy metal detoxification and trafficking. We have shown how peptides are capable of enforcing unusual coordination numbers and geometries in these systems. More recently the group has begun to look at transition metals, more specifically, developing constructs with Zn(II), Cu(I/II), and Fe(II/III). We have functionally designed proteins capable of a range of activities from hydrolytic chemistry to nitrite reduction to electron transfer. We plan to continue to improve these constructs’ current activities as well as increase the complexity of our systems to be able to build a protein with multiple sites with different functions.

Our group discovered a new class of metal chelating agents that have been named metallacrowns based on the structural similarity of these materials to organic crown ethers. The group has published extensively on the applications of these materials to magnetism, supramolecular chemistry, and catalysis. A newer project combines bioinorganic chemistry with synthetic chemistry as we seek to develop metallacrowns for near-infrared optical imaging. This relatively undeveloped imaging technique has important biomedical applications in early detection of cancer. Our group has generated a promising metallacrown complex that encapsulates lanthanide ions, which are well suited for application as near-infrared contrast agents due to their unique low-energy f-f transitions. Progress in this project is centered on further developing complexes with more desirable optical properties and examining their biocompatibility.


Pecoraro Research Group



1994-2014 Associate Editor, Inorganic Chemistry
2010-2012 Blaise Pascal Chair for International Research
Vanadis Award
Fellow, American Chemical Society
2000 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
2000 Chair, Metals in Biology Gordon Research Conference
1998-1999 Alexander vonHumboldt Award for Senior US Scientists
American Chemical Society Akron Section Award for Excellence in Chemistry
1989-1990 Research Fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
1986-1989 G.D. Searle Biomedical Research Scholar


Representative Publications

  1. Zastrow, M.L.; Peacock, A.F.A.; Stuckey, J.A.; Pecoraro, V.L. “Hydrolytic Catalysis and Structural Stabilization in a Designed Metalloprotein” Nature: Chemistry, 2012, 4, 118-123.

  2. Plegaria, J. P.; Dzul, S.; Zuiderweg, E.R.P.; Stemmler, T.J.; Pecoraro, V.L. “Solution Structure and Stability of a De Novo Designed Peptide that Sequesters Toxic Heavy Metals” Biochemistry 2015, 54, 2858−2873.

  3. Tegoni, M.; Yu, F.; Berseloni, M.; Penner-Hahn, J.E.; Pecoraro, V.L. “Designing functional type 2 copper centers within alpha-helical coiled coils that have nitrite reductase activity” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. (USA), 2012, 109, 21234–21239.

  4. Cangelosi, V.; Deb. A.; Penner-Hahn, J.E.; Pecoraro, V.L. “A de novo designed metalloenzyme for the hydration of CO2” Angew. Chem. 2014, 53, 7900-7903.

  5. Jankolovits, J.; Andolina, C.M.; Kampf, J.W.; Raymond, K.N.; Pecoraro, V.L. “Assembly of NIR Luminescent Lanthanide Host(Host-Guest) Complexes Using a Lanthanide-Metallacrown Sandwich Motif”  Angew. Chem., 2011, 50(41), 9660-9664.

  6. Trivedi, E.R.; Eliseeva, S.V.; Jankolovits, J.; Olmstead, M.; Petoud, S.; Pecoraro, V.L. “Highly Emitting Near-Infrared Lanthanide “Encapsulated Sandwich” Metallacrown Complexes with Excitation Shifted Toward Lower Energy” J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 15261534.