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Novel Chemical Synthons for the Generation of ‘Unnatural’ Products

Principal Supervisor: Dr Manuela Tosin, Department of Chemistry

Co-supervisor: Dr Christophe Corre, School of Life Sciences

PhD project title: Novel Chemical Synthons for the Generation of ‘Unnatural’ Products

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Natural products represent a major source of powerful and innovative therapeutic agents for the treatment of human, animal and plant diseases.1 Many of these products, including broad-spectrum and last resort antibiotics such as erythromycin and vancomycin, are of polyketide and nonribosomal peptide origin. The structural complexity of these molecules still provides stimulating and challenging targets for synthetic organic chemists. Moreover synthetic biology is currently seen as a highly attractive avenue for complex natural product preparation as well as structural diversification.2 This latter is highly desirable in view of developing new bioactive molecules of increased efficiency and/or novel activities.3

Polyketide and nonribosomal peptide products are biosynthesized in microorganisms and plants by multifunctional enzymes, the polyketide synthases (PKSs) and nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs) respectively. These utilize simple and abundant building blocks (e.g. acyl and amino acyl) and iterative condensation reactions to generate highly chemically functionalised polyketide/peptide chains, which can be further enzymatically tailored to yield the final natural products.4, 5

In the Tosin group at Warwick Chemistry we have recently found that small synthetic molecules that mimic the building blocks utilized in polyketide and nonribosomal peptide assembly can react with ‘stalled’ enzyme-bound biosynthetic intermediates and lead to the formation of ‘unnatural’ products: 6, 7 these are structurally complex molecules that are still made by a PKS enzymatic assembly but that are structurally different from the original products. Unnatural products may be as medicinally/commercially valuable as existing natural products, if not superior.3, 6


  • D. J. Newman et al. J. Nat. Prod. 2012, 75, 311-335.
  • M. R. Seyedsayamdost et al. ACS Synth. Biol. 2014, 3, 745-747.
  • R. J. M. Goss et al. Nat. Prod. Rep. 2012, 29, 870-889.
  • K. J. Weissman Methods Enzymol. 2009, 459, 3-16.
  • E. A. Felnagle et al., Mol. Pharmaceutics 2008, 5, 191- 211.
  • E. Riva et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014,53, 11944-9 (VIP article).
  • Y. T. C. Ho et al., Chem. Commun. 2017, 53, 7088-7091.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Bioenergy and Industrial biotechnology, Molecules, Cells and Systems

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Organic chemistry: synthesis, purification and characterisation of organic compounds;
  • Microbiology: growing and handling of E. coli and Actinobacteria strains;
  • Molecular biology: gene cloning and genetic disruptions in Actinobacteria using a PCR targeting methodology;
  • Protein chemistry and enzymology: protein expression in heterologous hosts, enzyme activity: reconstitution and characterisation;
  • Analytical chemistry: identification, isolation and characterisation of natural products and biosynthetic intermediates by LC-MS, HPLC, HR-MS, GC, NMR

Contact: Dr Manuela Tosin, University of Warwick