Sarah O’Connor received her degrees in chemistry from the University of Chicago (BSc) and MIT (PhD), and performed her post-doctoral work at Harvard Medical School. She was a Professor and Project Leader in Biological Chemistry at the John Innes Centre from 2011 to 2019. She has been the Director of the Department of Natural Product Biosynthesis at the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology since summer 2019. Her researchinterests focus on plants’ natural products, with a particular interest in the iridoids and alkaloids. Her research group takes a broad approach to understand plant biosynthetic pathways, ranging from gene discovery, mechanistic enzymology, and metabolic engineering. She has received various awards throughout her career, including Royal Society of Chemistry Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry (2019); European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (2018); Elected to European Molecular Biology Organization (2017), Wain Medal (2013).
About her talk: Harnessing the chemistry of plants
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 enormous chemical complexity from simple starting materials. This talk will highlight the discovery process for enzymes that catalyze unusual or unprecedented enzymatic transformations, mechanistic and structural characterization of these enzymes, and methods by which these enzymes can be harnessed for metabolic engineering to generate pharmacological important compounds. A variety of different plants and molecules are used for these studies, most notably the monoterpene indole alkaloids and the monoterpenes known as iridoids.