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Joseph Cotruvo

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Professional Appointments and Affiliations

Associate Professor of Chemistry



220 Chemistry Building

University Park, PA 16802


(814) 863-4869

Mailing Address

104 Chemistry Building


Ph.D., Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2012

A.B., Chemistry, Princeton University, 2006

Honors and Awards

Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry (2024)

Ed Stiefel Young Investigator Award (2022)

Sloan Research Fellowship (2021)

DOE Early Career Award (2020)

NSF CAREER Award (2019)

Charles E. Kaufman Foundation New Investigator Award (2018-2020)

Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship (2013-2016)

National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (2008-2011)


The Cotruvo lab uses biochemistry and chemical biology to understand metal selectivity in biological systems. We study how bacteria selectively acquire and utilize lanthanides and apply what we learn to design biotechnologies for rare earth detection, recovery, and separations. We also develop and apply new tools to study roles of transition metals (particularly iron and manganese) in infectious and neurodegenerative disease.

Selected Recent Publications

Mattocks, J.A., Jung, J.J., Lin, C.-Y., Dong, Z., Yennawar, N.H., Featherston, E.R., Kang-Yun, C.S., Hamilton, T.A., Park, D.M., Boal, A.K., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Enhanced rare-earth separation with a metal-sensitive lanmodulin dimer. Nature 2023, 618, 87-93. Link

Park, J., Cleary, M.B., Li, D., Mattocks, J.A., Xu, J., Wang, H., Mukhopadhyay, S., Gale, E.M., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. A genetically encoded fluorescent sensor for manganese(II), engineered from lanmodulin. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2022, 119, e2212723119. Link

Mattocks, J.A., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., Deblonde, G.J.-P. Engineering lanmodulin’s selectivity for actinides over lanthanides by controlling solvent coordination and second-sphere interactions. Chem. Sci. 2022, 13, 6054-6066. Link

Xu, J., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Reconsidering the czcD (NiCo) riboswitch as an iron riboswitch. ACS Bio Med Chem Au 2022, 2, 376-385. Link

Dong, Z., Mattocks, J.A., Deblonde, G.J.-P., Hu, D., Jiao, Y., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., Park, D.M. Bridging hydrometallurgy and biochemistry: A protein-based process for recovery and separation of rare earth elements. ACS Cent. Sci. 2021, 7, 1798-1808. Link

Deblonde, G.J.-P., Mattocks, J.A., Dong, Z., Wooddy, T., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., Zavarin, M. Capturing an elusive but critical element: Natural protein enables actinium chemistry. Sci. Adv. 2021, 7, eabk0273. Link

Deblonde, G.J.-P., Mattocks, J.A., Wang, H., Gale, E.M., Kersting, A.E., Zavarin, M., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Characterization of americium and curium complexes of the protein lanmodulin: A potential macromolecular mechanism for actinide mobility in the environment. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021, 143, 15769-15783. Link

Featherston, E.R., Issertell, E.I., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Probing lanmodulin's lanthanide recognition via sensitized luminescence yields a platform for quantification of terbium in acid mine drainage. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021, 143, 14287-14299. Link 

Featherston, E.R. and Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. The biochemistry of lanthanide acquisition, trafficking, and utilization. Biochim. Biophys. Acta Mol. Cell Res. 2021, 1868, 118864. Link

Mattocks, J.A. and Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Biological, biomolecular, and bio-inspired strategies for detection, extraction, and separations of lanthanides and actinides. Chem. Soc. Rev. 2020, 49, 8315-8334. Link

Deblonde, G.J.-P., Mattocks, J.A., Park, D.M., Reed, D.W., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., and Jiao, Y. Selective and efficient biomacromolecular extraction of rare earth elements using lanmodulin. Inorg. Chem. 2020, 59, 11855-11867. Link

Xu, J. and Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. The czcD (NiCo) riboswitch responds to iron(II). Biochemistry 202059, 1508-1516. Link

Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. The chemistry of lanthanides in biology: Recent discoveries, emerging principles, and technological applications. ACS Cent. Sci. 2019, 5, 1496-1506. Link

Featherston, E.R., Rose, H.R., McBride, M.J., E.M. Taylor, Boal, A.K., and Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Biochemical and structural characterization of XoxG and XoxJ and their roles in lanthanide-dependent methanol dehydrogenase activity. ChemBioChem 2019, 20, 2360-2372. Link

Mattocks, J.A., Ho, J.V., and Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. A selective, protein-based fluorescent sensor with picomolar affinity for rare earth elements. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 2857-2861. Link

Cook, E.C., Featherston, E.R., Showalter, S.A., and Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. Structural basis for rare earth element recognition by Methylobacterium extorquens lanmodulin. Biochemistry 2019, 58, 120-125. Link

Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., Featherston, E.R., Mattocks, J.A., Ho, J.V., and Laremore, T.N. Lanmodulin: A highly selective lanthanide-binding protein from a lanthanide-utilizing bacterium. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2018, 140, 15056-15061. Link

Prior to Penn State (Selected):

Krishnamoorthy, L.,* Cotruvo, J.A., Jr.,* Chan, J., Kaluarachchi, H., Muchenditsi, A., Pendyala, V.S., Jia, S., Aron, A.T., Ackerman, C.M., Vander Wal, M.N., Guan, T., Smaga, L.P., Farhi, S.S., New, E.J., Lutsenko, S., and Chang, C.J. Copper regulates cyclic-AMP-dependent lipolysis. Nat. Chem. Biol., 2016, 12, 586-592. (*Co-first authors)

Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., Stich, T.A., Britt, R.D., and Stubbe, J. Mechanism of assembly of the dimanganese-tyrosyl radical cofactor of class Ib ribonucleotide reductase: Enzymatic generation of superoxide is required for tyrosine oxidation via a MnIIIMnIV intermediate. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 4027-4039.

Boal, A.K., Cotruvo, J.A., Jr., Stubbe, J., and Rosenzweig, A.C. Structural basis for activation of class Ib ribonucleotide reductase. Science 2010, 329, 1526-1530.

Cotruvo, J.A., Jr. and Stubbe, J. An active dimanganese(III)-tyrosyl radical cofactor in Escherichia coli class Ib ribonucleotide reductase. Biochemistry 2010, 49, 1297-1309.