I am a chemist turned biochemist turned synthetic biologist and bioengineer. I am currently working as a Postdoctoral Fellow with Pam Silver in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
After studying chemistry at Philipps-University Marburg (Germany) and Imperial College London (UK) and receiving my M.Sc., I started graduate school at Marburg in the lab of Mohamed A. Marahiel. During my PhD, I worked on the discovery of secondary metabolites and antibiotics and on the functional and structural characterization of biosynthetic enzymes involved in secondary metabolism including non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs), polyketide synthases (PKSs) and cyclodipeptide synthases (CDPSs). After graduation, I worked as a Research Fellow at the Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SynMikro) at Marburg focusing on the engineering of NRPS adenylation domains for the incorporation of unnatural amino acids into proteins and bioactive peptides.
From a chemist’s point of view, proteins are the most marvelous of biomolecules. Their awesome powers of catalysis and specificity in aqueous solution and at ambient temperatures still amaze me today. After studying enzymes able to biosynthesize peptide antibiotics like penicillin and vancomycin during my graduate work, I became interested in the second important function proteins play in living organisms, namely as structural components. I was particularly drawn to the idea of genetically encoding the self-assembly of large regular protein nanostructures which spiked my initial interest in protein-based compartments. At the same time, I became interested in the new field of synthetic biology, which applies the conceptual approaches of engineering and chemistry to biology and aims to address important societal needs. This made Pam Silver’s lab at Harvard Medical School, which was involved in establishing the field of synthetic biology and had a history of studying protein organelles, a perfect fit for me to start my postdoctoral work.