2019 Distinguished Lecture
Plants, which make thousands of complex natural products, are outstanding chemists. Through the concerted action of enzymes that are assembled into metabolic pathways, nature creates chemical complexity from simple starting materials. I will highlight some of the unusual enzymatic transformations that plants use to make complex, bioactive natural products, and will also discuss methods by which these pathways can be harnessed for metabolic engineering to generate pharmacological important compounds. The focus is on the biosynthesis of the monoterpenes called iridoids, and the alkaloids derived from iridoids, known as the monoterpene indole alkaloids. The discovery, functional characterization and mechanistic study of enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of these important compounds in several medicinal plant species will be discussed.
Sarah O’Connor received her degrees in chemistry from the University of Chicago (BS) and MIT (PhD), and performed her post-doctoral work at Harvard Medical School. She has been a Professor and Project Leader in Biological Chemistry at the John Innes Centre since 2011, and will become Director of the Department of Natural Product Biosynthesis at the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology in summer 2019. Her research interests focus on the natural products of plants, with a particular interest in the iridoids and alkaloids. Her research group takes a broad approach to understanding plant biosynthetic pathways, ranging from gene discovery, mechanistic enzymology, and metabolic engineering.
Wine Reception to follow