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

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!

Uncovering choline utilizing gut microbes

April 23, 2015

We have recently published a paper in mBio that examines anaerobic choline utilization in human gut microbes. An excess of this activity has been linked to multiple human diseases, and our work reveals that the bacterial genes that encode this pathway are widespread in members of the gut microbiota. Congratulations to Ana, Sam B., and Jonathan for their terrific work!

ASBMB Poster Award

April 23, 2015

Congratulations to Sam B. on her recently announced poster award!  She was given a Best Thematic Poster award in the Microbiome Dynamics and Health Disparities category at the 2015 Amercian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting for her work entitled “Radical Chemistry in the Human Gut: Discovery of Choline Trimethylamine-Lyase.”