Sarah E O'Connor

John Innes Centre, Norwich, England, United Kingdom

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Publications (44)376.78 Total impact

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Catharanthus roseus, the Madagascar periwinkle, synthesizes bioactive monoterpenoid indole alkaloids, among which the anti-cancer drugs vinblastine and vincristine. The monoterpenoid branch of the alkaloid pathway leads to the secoiridoid secologanin and involves the enzyme iridoid synthase (IS), a member of the progesterone 5β-reductase (P5βR) family. IS reduces 8-oxogeranial to iridodial. Through transcriptome mining, we show that IS belongs to a family of six C. roseus P5βR genes. Characterisation of recombinant CrP5βR proteins demonstrates that all but CrP5βR3 can reduce progesterone, and thus can be classified as P5βRs. Three of them, namely CrP5βR1, CrP5βR2 and CrP5βR4, could also reduce 8-oxogeranial, pointing to a possible redundancy with IS (corresponding to CrP5βR5) in secoiridoid synthesis. In depth functional analysis by subcellular protein localisation, gene expression analysis, in situ hybridisation and virus-induced gene silencing, indicates that besides IS, CrP5βR4 may also participate in secoiridoid biosynthesis. Finally, we cloned a set of P5βR genes from angiosperm plant species not known to produce iridoids and demonstrate that the corresponding recombinant proteins are also capable of using 8-oxogeranial as a substrate. This suggests that 'IS activity' is intrinsic to angiosperm P5βR proteins and has evolved early during evolution.
    Molecular plant. 09/2014;
  • Dorota Jakubczyk, Johnathan Z Cheng, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Covering: 2011 to early 2014The ergots are a structurally diverse group of alkaloids derived from tryptophan and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) . The potent bioactivity of ergot alkaloids have resulted in their use in many applications throughout human history. In this highlight, we recap some of the history of the ergot alkaloids, along with a brief description of the classifications of the different ergot structures and producing organisms. Finally we describe what the advancements that have been made in understanding the biosynthetic pathways, both at the genomic and the biochemical levels. We note that several excellent review on the ergot alkaloids, including one by Wallwey and Li in Nat. Prod. Rep., have been published recently. We provide a brief overview of the ergot alkaloids, and highlight the advances in biosynthetic pathway elucidation that have been made since 2011 in Section 4.
    Natural Product Reports 08/2014; · 10.18 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Hydroxylation of tabersonine at the C-16 position, catalyzed by tabersonine 16-hydroxylase (T16H), initiates the synthesis of vindoline that constitutes the main alkaloid accumulated in leaves of Catharanthus roseus. Over the last decade, this reaction has been associated with CYP71D12 cloned from undifferentiated C. roseus cells. In the present study, we isolated a second cytochrome P450 (CYP71D351) displaying T16H activity. Biochemical characterization demonstrated that CYP71D12 and CYP71D351 both exhibit high affinity for tabersonine and narrow substrate specificity, making of T16H the first alkaloid biosynthetic enzyme displaying two isoforms encoded by distinct genes, characterized to date in C. roseus. However, both genes dramatically diverge in transcript distribution in planta. While CYP71D12 (T16H1) expression is restricted to flowers and undifferentiated cells, CYP71D351 (T16H2) expression profile is similar to the other vindoline biosynthetic genes reaching a maximum in young leaves. Moreover, transcript localization by carborundum abrasion and RNA in situ hybridization demonstrated that CYP71D351 mRNA are specifically located to leaf epidermis, which also host the next step of vindoline biosynthesis. Comparison of high and low vindoline accumulating C. roseus cultivars also highlights the direct correlation between CYP71D351 transcript and vindoline levels. In addition, CYP71D351 down-regulation mediated by virus-induced gene silencing reduces vindoline accumulation in leaves and re-directs the biosynthetic flux towards the production of unmodified alkaloids at the C-16 position. All these data demonstrate that tabersonine 16-hydroxylation is orchestrated in an organ-dependent manner by two genes including CYP71D351 that encodes the specific T16H isoform acting in the foliar vindoline biosynthesis.
    Plant physiology 10/2013; · 6.56 Impact Factor
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    Weerawat Runguphan, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Catharanthus roseus monoterpene indole alkaloid analogs have been produced via a combination of biosynthetic and chemical strategies. Specifically, introduction of a chemical handle-a chlorine or a bromine-into the target molecule by mutasynthesis, followed by postbiosynthetic chemical derivatization using Pd-catalyzed Suzuki-Miyaura cross-coupling reactions robustly afforded aryl and heteroaryl analogs of these alkaloids.
    Organic Letters 05/2013; · 6.14 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The iridoids comprise a large family of distinctive bicyclic monoterpenes that possess a wide range of pharmacological activities, including anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibacterial activities. Additionally, certain iridoids are used as sex pheromones in agriculturally important species of aphids, a fact that has underpinned innovative and integrated pest management strategies. To harness the biotechnological potential of this natural product class, the enzymes involved in the biosynthetic pathway must be elucidated. Here we report the discovery of iridoid synthase, a plant-derived enzyme that generates the iridoid ring scaffold, as evidenced by biochemical assays, gene silencing, co-expression analysis and localization studies. In contrast to all known monoterpene cyclases, which use geranyl diphosphate as substrate and invoke a cationic intermediate, iridoid synthase uses the linear monoterpene 10-oxogeranial as substrate and probably couples an initial NAD(P)H-dependent reduction step with a subsequent cyclization step via a Diels-Alder cycloaddition or a Michael addition. Our results illustrate how a short-chain reductase was recruited as cyclase for the production of iridoids in medicinal plants. Furthermore, we highlight the prospects of using unrelated reductases to generate artificial cyclic scaffolds. Beyond the recognition of an alternative biochemical mechanism for the biosynthesis of cyclic terpenes, we anticipate that our work will enable the large-scale heterologous production of iridoids in plants and microorganisms for agricultural and pharmaceutical applications.
    Nature 11/2012; · 38.60 Impact Factor
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    Weslee S Glenn, Weerawat Runguphan, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Plant alkaloids have a rich chemical ecology that has been exploited for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Despite being highly represented within today's pharmacopoeia, relatively little is known about the biosynthesis, regulation and transport of these molecules. Understanding how nature synthesizes plant alkaloids will enhance our ability to overproduce-that is, to metabolically engineer-these medicinally useful compounds as well as new-to-nature compounds (with potentially improved bioactivity) derived from these natural scaffolds. Recent progress in the metabolic engineering of nitrogen-containing plant natural products-specifically the monoterpene indole alkaloids, the benzylisoquinoline alkaloids and the glucosinolates-was made possible through the characterization of various components in both native and engineered enzymatic pathways. The subsequent reconfiguration and tuning of these biological 'parts' has enabled the production of selected products at increasingly higher titers.
    Current opinion in biotechnology 09/2012; · 7.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Covering: 1997 to 2012In the recent past, macromolecular crystallography has gone through substantial methodological and technological development. The purpose of this review is to provide a general overview of structural biology and its impact on enzyme structure/function analysis and illustrate how it is modifying the focus of research relevant to alkaloid biosynthesis.
    Natural Product Reports 08/2012; 29(10):1176-200. · 10.18 Impact Factor
  • Dean DellaPenna, Sarah E O'Connor
    Science 06/2012; 336(6089):1648-9. · 31.20 Impact Factor
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    Weerawat Runguphan, Weslee S Glenn, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) produces medicinally important benzylisoquinoline alkaloids, including the analgesics codeine and morphine, in the morphinan pathway. We aligned three dioxygenases that were recently discovered in P. somniferum and subsequently identified the nonconserved regions. Two of these enzymes, codeine O-demethylase (PsCODM) and thebaine O-demethylase (PsT6ODM), are known to facilitate regioselective O-demethylation in morphinan biosynthesis. We systematically swapped the residues that were nonconserved between the PsCODM and PsT6ODM sequences to generate 16 mutant PsCODM proteins that could be overexpressed in Escherichia coli. While wild-type PsCODM can demethylate both codeine and thebaine, one engineered PsCODM mutant selectively demethylates codeine. Use of this reengineered enzyme in the reconstitution of morphine biosynthesis could selectively disable a redundant pathway branch and therefore impact the yields of the downstream products codeine and morphine in subsequent metabolic engineering efforts.
    Chemistry & biology 06/2012; 19(6):674-8. · 6.52 Impact Factor
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    Bettina M Ruff, S Bräse, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: The promiscuity of the enzyme norcoclaurine synthase is described. This biocatalyst yielded a diverse array of substituted tetrahydroisoquinolines by cyclizing dopamine with various acetaldehydes in a Pictet-Spengler reaction. This enzymatic reaction may provide a biocatalytic route to a range of tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids.
    Tetrahedron Letters 02/2012; 53(9):1071-1074. · 2.40 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The natural diversity of plant metabolism has long been a source for human medicines. One group of plant-derived compounds, the monoterpene indole alkaloids (MIAs), includes well-documented therapeutic agents used in the treatment of cancer (vinblastine, vincristine, camptothecin), hypertension (reserpine, ajmalicine), malaria (quinine), and as analgesics (7-hydroxymitragynine). Our understanding of the biochemical pathways that synthesize these commercially relevant compounds is incomplete due in part to a lack of molecular, genetic, and genomic resources for the identification of the genes involved in these specialized metabolic pathways. To address these limitations, we generated large-scale transcriptome sequence and expression profiles for three species of Asterids that produce medicinally important MIAs: Camptotheca acuminata, Catharanthus roseus, and Rauvolfia serpentina. Using next generation sequencing technology, we sampled the transcriptomes of these species across a diverse set of developmental tissues, and in the case of C. roseus, in cultured cells and roots following elicitor treatment. Through an iterative assembly process, we generated robust transcriptome assemblies for all three species with a substantial number of the assembled transcripts being full or near-full length. The majority of transcripts had a related sequence in either UniRef100, the Arabidopsis thaliana predicted proteome, or the Pfam protein domain database; however, we also identified transcripts that lacked similarity with entries in either database and thereby lack a known function. Representation of known genes within the MIA biosynthetic pathway was robust. As a diverse set of tissues and treatments were surveyed, expression abundances of transcripts in the three species could be estimated to reveal transcripts associated with development and response to elicitor treatment. Together, these transcriptomes and expression abundance matrices provide a rich resource for understanding plant specialized metabolism, and promotes realization of innovative production systems for plant-derived pharmaceuticals.
    PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(12):e52506. · 3.53 Impact Factor
  • Dean DellaPenna, Sarah E. O'Connor
    Science 01/2012; 336(6089):1648-1649. · 31.03 Impact Factor
  • Weslee S Glenn, Ezekiel Nims, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Installing halogens onto natural products can generate compounds with novel or improved properties. Notably, enzymatic halogenation is now possible as a result of the discovery of several classes of halogenases; however, applications are limited because of the narrow substrate specificity of these enzymes. Here we demonstrate that the flavin-dependent halogenase RebH can be engineered to install chlorine preferentially onto tryptamine rather than the native substrate tryptophan. Tryptamine is a direct precursor to many alkaloid natural products, including approximately 3000 monoterpene indole alkaloids. To validate the function of this engineered enzyme in vivo, we transformed the tryptamine-specific RebH mutant (Y455W) into the alkaloid-producing plant Madagascar periwinkle ( Catharanthus roseus ) and observed the de novo production of the halogenated alkaloid 12-chloro-19,20-dihydroakuammicine. While wild-type (WT) RebH has been integrated into periwinkle metabolism previously, the resulting tissue cultures accumulated substantial levels of 7-chlorotryptophan. Tryptophan decarboxylase, the enzyme that converts tryptophan to tryptamine, accepts 7-chlorotryptophan at only 3% of the efficiency of the native substrate tryptophan, thereby creating a bottleneck. The RebH Y455W mutant circumvents this bottleneck by installing chlorine onto tryptamine, a downstream substrate. In comparison with cultures harboring RebH and WT RebF, tissue cultures containing mutant RebH Y455W and RebF also accumulate microgram per gram fresh-weight quantities of 12-chloro-19,20-dihydroakuammicine but, in contrast, do not accumulate 7-chlorotryptophan, demonstrating the selectivity and potential utility of this mutant in metabolic engineering applications.
    Journal of the American Chemical Society 11/2011; 133(48):19346-9. · 10.68 Impact Factor
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    David K Liscombe, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: The anticancer agents vinblastine and vincristine are bisindole alkaloids derived from coupling vindoline and catharanthine, monoterpenoid indole alkaloids produced exclusively by the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). Industrial production of vinblastine and vincristine currently relies on isolation from C. roseus leaves, a process that affords these compounds in 0.0003-0.01% yields. Metabolic engineering efforts to either improve alkaloid content or provide alternative sources of the bisindole alkaloids ultimately rely on the isolation and characterization of the genes involved. Several vindoline biosynthetic genes have been isolated, and the cellular and subcellular organization of the corresponding enzymes has been well studied. However, due to the leaf-specific localization of vindoline biosynthesis, and the lack of production of this precursor in cell suspension and hairy root cultures of C. roseus, further elucidation of this pathway demands the development of reverse genetics approaches to assay gene function in planta. The bipartite pTRV vector system is a Tobacco Rattle Virus-based virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) platform that has provided efficient and effective means to assay gene function in diverse plant systems. A VIGS method was developed herein to investigate gene function in C. roseus plants using the pTRV vector system. The utility of this approach in understanding gene function in C. roseus leaves is demonstrated by silencing known vindoline biosynthetic genes previously characterized in vitro.
    Phytochemistry 07/2011; 72(16):1969-77. · 3.05 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The exponential growth of sequence data provides abundant information for the discovery of new enzyme reactions. Correctly annotating the functions of highly diverse proteins can be difficult, however, hindering use of this information. Global analysis of large superfamilies of related proteins is a powerful strategy for understanding the evolution of reactions by identifying catalytic commonalities and differences in reaction and substrate specificity, even when only a few members have been biochemically or structurally characterized. A comparison of >2500 sequences sharing the six-bladed β-propeller fold establishes sequence, structural, and functional links among the three subgroups of the functionally diverse N6P superfamily: the arylesterase-like and senescence marker protein-30/gluconolactonase/luciferin-regenerating enzyme-like (SGL) subgroups, representing enzymes that catalyze lactonase and related hydrolytic reactions, and the so-called strictosidine synthase-like (SSL) subgroup. Metal-coordinating residues were identified as broadly conserved in the active sites of all three subgroups except for a few proteins from the SSL subgroup, which have been experimentally determined to catalyze the quite different strictosidine synthase (SS) reaction, a metal-independent condensation reaction. Despite these differences, comparison of conserved catalytic features of the arylesterase-like and SGL enzymes with the SSs identified similar structural and mechanistic attributes between the hydrolytic reactions catalyzed by the former and the condensation reaction catalyzed by SS. The results also suggest that despite their annotations, the great majority of these >500 SSL sequences do not catalyze the SS reaction; rather, they likely catalyze hydrolytic reactions typical of the other two subgroups instead. This prediction was confirmed experimentally for one of these proteins.
    Proteins Structure Function and Bioinformatics 07/2011; 79(11):3082-98. · 3.34 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Plant cytochrome P450s are involved in the production of over a hundred thousand metabolites such as alkaloids, terpenoids, and phenylpropanoids. Although cytochrome P450 genes constitute one of the largest superfamilies in plants, many of the catalytic functions of the enzymes they encode remain unknown. Here, we report the identification and functional characterization of a cytochrome P450 gene in a new subfamily of CYP71, CYP71BJ1, involved in alkaloid biosynthesis. Co-expression analysis of putative cytochrome P450 genes in the Catharanthus roseus transcriptome identified candidate genes with expression profiles similar to known terpene indole alkaloid biosynthetic genes. Screening of these candidate genes by functional expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae yielded a unique P450-dependent enzyme that stereoselectively hydroxylates the alkaloids tabersonine and lochnericine at the 19-position of the aspidosperma-type alkaloid scaffold. Tabersonine, which can be converted to either vindoline or 19-O-acetylhörhammericine, represents a branch point in alkaloid biosynthesis. The discovery of CYP71BJ1, which forms part of the pathway leading to 19-O-acetylhörhammericine, will help illuminate how this branch point is controlled in C. roseus.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 03/2011; 286(19):16751-7. · 4.65 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Genes required for ergot alkaloid biosynthesis are clustered in the genomes of several fungi. Several conserved ergot cluster genes have been hypothesized, and in some cases demonstrated, to encode early steps of the pathway shared among fungi that ultimately make different ergot alkaloid end products. The deduced amino acid sequence of one of these conserved genes (easC) indicates a catalase as the product, but a role for a catalase in the ergot alkaloid pathway has not been established. We disrupted easC of Aspergillus fumigatus by homologous recombination with a truncated copy of that gene. The resulting mutant (ΔeasC) failed to produce the ergot alkaloids typically observed in A. fumigatus, including chanoclavine-I, festuclavine, and fumigaclavines B, A, and C. The ΔeasC mutant instead accumulated N-methyl-4-dimethylallyltryptophan (N-Me-DMAT), an intermediate recently shown to accumulate in Claviceps purpurea strains mutated at ccsA (called easE in A. fumigatus) (Lorenz et al. Appl Environ Microbiol 76:1822-1830, 2010). A ΔeasE disruption mutant of A. fumigatus also failed to accumulate chanoclavine-I and downstream ergot alkaloids and, instead, accumulated N-Me-DMAT. Feeding chanoclavine-I to the ΔeasC mutant restored ergot alkaloid production. Complementation of either ΔeasC or ΔeasE mutants with the respective wild-type allele also restored ergot alkaloid production. The easC gene was expressed in Escherichia coli, and the protein product displayed in vitro catalase activity with H(2)O(2) but did not act, in isolation, on N-Me-DMAT as substrate. The data indicate that the products of both easC (catalase) and easE (FAD-dependent oxidoreductase) are required for conversion of N-Me-DMAT to chanoclavine-I.
    Current Genetics 03/2011; 57(3):201-11. · 2.41 Impact Factor
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    Weerawat Runguphan, Xudong Qu, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Halogenation, which was once considered a rare occurrence in nature, has now been observed in many natural product biosynthetic pathways. However, only a small fraction of halogenated compounds have been isolated from terrestrial plants. Given the impact that halogenation can have on the biological activity of natural products, we reasoned that the introduction of halides into medicinal plant metabolism would provide the opportunity to rationally bioengineer a broad variety of novel plant products with altered, and perhaps improved, pharmacological properties. Here we report that chlorination biosynthetic machinery from soil bacteria can be successfully introduced into the medicinal plant Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle). These prokaryotic halogenases function within the context of the plant cell to generate chlorinated tryptophan, which is then shuttled into monoterpene indole alkaloid metabolism to yield chlorinated alkaloids. A new functional group-a halide-is thereby introduced into the complex metabolism of C. roseus, and is incorporated in a predictable and regioselective manner onto the plant alkaloid products. Medicinal plants, despite their genetic and developmental complexity, therefore seem to be a viable platform for synthetic biology efforts.
    Nature 11/2010; 468(7322):461-4. · 38.60 Impact Factor
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    David K Liscombe, Aimee R Usera, Sarah E O'Connor
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    ABSTRACT: Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is the sole source of the anticancer drugs vinblastine and vincristine, bisindole alkaloids derived from the dimerization of the terpenoid indole alkaloids vindoline and catharanthine. Full elucidation of the biosynthetic pathways of these compounds is a prerequisite for metabolic engineering efforts that will improve production of these costly molecules. However, despite the medical and commercial importance of these natural products, the biosynthetic pathways remain poorly understood. Here we report the identification and characterization of a C. roseus cDNA encoding an S-adenosyl-L-methionine-dependent N methyltransferase that catalyzes a nitrogen methylation involved in vindoline biosynthesis. Recombinant enzyme produced in Escherichia coli is highly substrate specific, displaying a strict requirement for a 2,3-dihydro bond in the aspidosperma skeleton. The corresponding gene transcript is induced in methyl jasmonate-elicited seedlings, along with the other known vindoline biosynthetic transcripts. Intriguingly, this unique N methyltransferase is most similar at the amino acid level to the plastidic γ-tocopherol C methyltransferases of vitamin E biosynthesis, suggesting an evolutionary link between these two functionally disparate methyltransferases.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10/2010; 107(44):18793-8. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The ergot alkaloids are a diverse class of fungal-derived indole alkaloid natural products with potent pharmacological activities. The biosynthetic intermediate chanoclavine-I aldehyde 1 represents a branch point in ergot biosynthesis. Ergot alkaloids festuclavine 2 and agroclavine 3 derive from alternate enzymatic pathways originating from the common biosynthetic precursor chanoclavine-I aldehyde 1. Here we show that while the Old Yellow Enzyme homologue EasA from the ergot biosynthetic gene cluster of Aspergillus fumigatus acts on chanoclavine-I aldehyde 1 to yield festuclavine 2, EasA from Neotyphodium lolii, in contrast, produces agroclavine 3. Mutational analysis suggests a mechanistic rationale for the switch in activity that controls this critical branch point of ergot alkaloid biosynthesis.
    Journal of the American Chemical Society 09/2010; 132(37):12835-7. · 10.68 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

605 Citations
376.78 Total Impact Points


  • 2011–2014
    • John Innes Centre
      • Department of Biological Chemistry
      Norwich, England, United Kingdom
    • Salk Institute
      • Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics
      La Jolla, California, United States
  • 2006–2013
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      • Department of Chemistry
      Cambridge, MA, United States
  • 2012
    • Michigan State University
      • Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
      East Lansing, MI, United States