10 international PhD fellowships in the European Doctoral Network BiocatCodeExpander for a training on innovative biotechnological applications of non-canonical amino acids for biocatalysis, synthetic biology, organic chemistry and computational biology.


Emilia Iglesias Moncayo


Design of novel artificial enzymes utilizing novel non-canonical amino acids



Hello everyone, my name is Emilia Iglesias Moncayo, and I am from Ecuador. My journey in science began with a bachelor’s in chemistry at Yachay Tech University in my home country, where I discovered my passion for this field. This passion led me to further my education by joining the EMJMD Master in Sustainable Catalysis ( University of Poitiers and University of Aveiro). During my master’s, I had the privilege of interning at IFPEN and conducting my master’s thesis at the University of Graz under the guidance of Dr. Christoph Winkler. I am now a PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam in the Drienovská’s group as part of the MSCA BiocatCodeExpander. I am deeply dedicated to my research and am excited about the potential it holds in the field of biocatalysis.

 Tell us a bit about your PhD project

Biocatalysis is promising for organic synthesis as it can advance sustainability and green chemistry goals by performing reactions under mild conditions with high selectivity. However, enzymes are finely tuned to catalyze a specific array of responses relevant to nature, which may be limited compared to the ones attainable through chemical means. To address this, our strategy is to design tailored artificial enzymes endowed with novel reactivity that are currently inaccessible. Indeed, we aim to introduce new-to-nature chemical moieties in an enzyme/scaffold of interest using non-canonical amino acids (ncAAs) to expand the chemical tools of enzymes. Our research group has made significant strides in incorporating secondary amine ncAAs to develop enzymes to catalyze Michael addition reactions. In my project, we aspire to expand this further by designing new ncAAs bearing tertiary amine moieties, drawing inspiration from known organocatalysts. Upon successful synthesis, these ncAAs will be incorporated into computationally designed scaffolds. These new artificial enzymes will be tested as catalysts for reactions of interest. Research on ncAAs paves the way for unlocking new types of biocatalysis and enzyme engineering advancement.

Tell us about your research interests – what do you expect from the consortium

I have always been fascinated by interdisciplinary research, and being part of this consortium is an excellent opportunity to work at the interface of chemistry and biology with experts in both study areas. I find it inspiring to translate years of research in organocatalysis into biological scaffolds to unlock new natural reactivities. Moreover, I believe in constant training in scientific and soft skills, which I aim to develop further throughout the Ph.D. journey at the different schools planned by the consortium in partner universities.  

Furthermore, research relies heavily on a strong scientific community and collaboration. Our project depends on cooperation between the PhD candidates, allowing for the developing of these relevant soft skills. Furthermore, it will enable the consolidation of a scientific community of young scientists among all the doctoral candidates of the consortium, which would facilitate scientific exchange of relevance in the years to come.


A lot is going on besides the Ph.D. In this sense, I enjoy hiking, dancing, and roller skating in my free time, and lately, I have been trying to pick up new hobbies. Moreover, I am a sunset lover and always try to find new great locations to spot sunsets. Furthermore, I enjoy doing language tandem. Indeed, although not simple, I have been trying to start learning a bit of Dutch. Since moving to Europe, I have also enjoyed traveling and getting to know new countries, food, places, people, and their cultures. I like to be part of projects that significantly impact the (scientific) community. Indeed, I have always been inspired to work towards a more inclusive in all senses research environment for everyone. I also like mentoring and supporting students in their journey through research, funding opportunities, etc.

Favorite book, meal, movie and series?

Book: I enjoy books about suspense, fiction, and thrillers, and among my favorites are those by John Katzenbach.

Meal: I greatly appreciate Ecuadorian food and highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet experienced it. Among my favorites are Hornado, fritada, arroz moro, tigrillo, and, of course, combined with freshly made juice. However, additions have been made to my list now living in Europe, such as Schnitzel, beef bourguignon, goulash and arancini. Of course, to finish with the best, I am a huge fan of all types of pastries at French patisseries

Series: I am passionate about watching series, especially on gloomy days something quite common in the Netherlands. Among my favorite series are Gilmore Girls, suits, 3%, Call My Agent, and many others.

Favorite city 

This is a very challenging question, and making one choice is difficult. Besides my hometown, I like very much Lyon

at what Harry Potter house do you belong?

I believe I would belong to Gryffindor 🦁

Nonetheless, the most important thing is that I wish to have Hermione’s time turner to be simultaneously in the laboratory and the office 

PyMOL or Chimera?

Of course PyMOL


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Doctoral Supervisor

Dr. Ivana Drienovská 

Enrolment in Doctoral degree

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA)


At Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, United States of America) with Prof. Lynn Kamerlin & Symeres (Groningen, The Netherlands) with Prof. Richard M. Kellogg


  • Chemical synthesis of novel non-canonical amino acids (NCAA)
  • Expression and characterization of novel NCAA-containing enzymes 
  • Investigation of NCAA-containing enzymes in model Michael addition reaction and exploration of their activity in other challenging reactions
  • Engineering of the best performing variants to improve enzymatic activity
  • Evaluate substrate scope of best variants


Fields related to the project

(1) Synthetic organic chemistry

(2) Computational biology

(3) Protein engineering

(4) Biocatalysis

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions / Doctoral Networks

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101072686.