The Vanderbilt Laboratory for Biosynthetic Studies

We study and harness the biosynthetic capabilities of living systems in order to radically accelerate the discovery of new bioactive compounds, and revolutionize how molecules are synthesized.

Metabolites that provide an additional benefit outside of day-to-day processes, that is molecules that provide an organism with something ‘extra’, are referred to as secondary metabolites.

These secondary metabolites are assembled by sequences of biochemical transformations, each further elaborating a molecule, often resulting in large and ornately complex molecular architectures. Also termed ‘natural products’, these may be tools of interspecies warfare and communication. A familiar example is penicillin. Penicillin itself is ultimately derived from three simple amino acids, but modified via a series of virtuosic chemical reactions inside of the Penicillium mold, each catalyzed by an enzyme, into a powerful microbial weapon. Penicillin is not normally required for the normal growth and replication of Penicillium. However, if it is threatened by a micro predatory bacterium, the compound serves as an effective defensive antibiotic.

In the VLBS we are concerned with how life accomplishes chemical syntheses inside of cells. We believe that chemists can take lessons from living systems in how to more efficiently synthesize valuable compounds. We can now co-opt the machinery of nature itself for the ‘green’ synthesis of compounds of value to humanity. We can leverage natural chemical diversity for the discovery of new chemical biological probes and drugs.