Research Projects

Exploring Microbial Small Molecules

Genetically encoded organic molecules are the common chemical language that unites all life, from single cells to communities of organisms. As natural products, they are broadly applied in medicine, agriculture and nutrition. Our research interests are mainly to discover natural products from the marine bacteria and the human microbiota, decipher their biosynthetic enzymes, and interrogate their biological roles. We are using a combination of genetics, genomics, chemistry, biochemistry, and bioinformatics to answer basic biological questions and to develop new therapeutics.

1. Natural Product Genome Mining and Biosynthesis

We combine genetics, genomics, chemistry, biochemistry, and bioinformatics to discover microbial small molecules and decipher their biosynthesis, with an emphasis on marine bacteria and human-related bacteria.

2. Natural Product Biology

Historically, most microbial small molecules (SMs) were identified by screening for activities of interest for the purposes of drug discovery. We are interested in interrogating the biological and ecological functions of SMs in producing organisms and natural ecosystems.

3. Mining the microbial inventory of PLP-dependent enzymes

Pyridoxal 5′-phosphate (PLP), the bioactive form of vitamin B6, acts as one of the most important co-factor in a variety of biochemical reactions, representing ~4% of all known catalytic activities. We are working on identifying PLP-DEs from the genomic and metagenomic data of the human microbiome, through enzyme mining, heterologous expression, and in vitro bio-characterization. We are particularly interested in these PLP-DEs that play important roles in the metabolism of small molecules from the microbiota.