Research in the Balskus Lab:

Discovering, Understanding, and Manipulating Microbial Chemistry

The vast majority of life is microbial. Estimates place the total number of microbes on Earth at 1030; for comparison, the number of stars in the universe is estimated at 1024. Survival of these organisms in diverse habitats and complex communities requires chemical innovation, and microorganisms are continually evolving elegant chemical solutions for problems inherent to their growth and survival. Understanding microbial metabolism at the molecular level is important; metabolic functions of these organisms shape the environment, impact human health, and provide us with medicinally and industrially essential molecules.

The central goal of research in the Balskus Lab is to discover, understand, and manipulate microbial chemistry. We are developing chemically guided approaches for discovering new metabolic pathways and enzymes in microbial genome sequencing data and for elucidating biochemical functions of genes linked to important biological activities. We are also exploring strategies for altering microbial metabolism using biocompatible, non-enzymatic chemical transformations that can interface with biological pathways. This work has the potential to transform both how we use DNA sequencing data to understand biology and how we can harness biology for chemical production. 

Latest News

Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

May 17, 2015

Emily was also recently selected to receive a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.  Thanks to the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation for their support and recognizing both Emily’s efforts as a teacher as well as the group’s scientific contributions in the fields of chemistry and chemical biology!

Cottrell Scholar Award

May 4, 2015

Emily was given the Cottrell Scholar Award in recognition for her efforts as both a teacher and as a research group leader.  Thanks to the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement for their support!

Assembly line termination in cylindrocyclophane biosynthesis

April 23, 2015

Congratulations to Hitomi on her recent publication in Chemical Science, which examines the termination of the type I polyketide synthase (PKS) assembly line from cylindrocyclophane biosynthesis. This PKS contains a thioesterase domain that is involved in assembly line editing rather than termination. This type of thioesterase is found in many other bacterial biosynthetic pathways!