Prof Anne Osbourn

Director of the Norwich Research Park Industrial Biotechnology Alliance
Metabolic Biology

Anne investigates plant natural product biosynthesis.

Anne's discovery that the genes for many of these pathways are organised in clusters in plant genomes like ‘beads on a string’ has greatly accelerated the ability to find new pathways and chemistries of potential importance for the development of drugs and other useful compounds.

She has also developed a synthetic biology platform for rapid gram-scale production, using triterpenes as an exemplar.

  • Triterpene biosynthesis, enzyme and pathway discovery
  • Genome mining for natural product pathways
  • Production of natural products and analogs for drug and chemical discovery programmes


An important advance from their lab has been the discovery that genes for specialised metabolic pathways are organised in ‘operon-like’ clusters in plant genomes, a finding that has opened up new opportunities for pathway discovery through genome mining, metabolic engineering and synthetic biology.

Terpene pathway discovery, elucidation and engineering.  The terpenes are one of the largest and most diverse classes of plant-derived natural products and have a wide range of applications in the agriculture, pharmaceutical, food and manufacturing industries. These compounds have a high degree of structural complexity, making them inaccessible to organic synthesis or classical combinatorial chemistry.

The lab have characterised an extensive set of genes and enzymes for triterpene biosynthesis and are using this toolkit to engineer structurally diverse molecules so that we can investigate the relationship between structure and function.  They aim to create new methods, platforms and technologies for the rapid discovery, synthesis and modification of triterpenes that would not otherwise be accessible.

Operon-like gene clusters and synthetic traits. Plant genomes contain thousands of genes with predicted functions in secondary metabolism, but the metabolic diversity of plants remains largely unexplored. They are exploiting the discovery that genes for the synthesis of different classes of specialised metabolite are organised in ‘operon-like’ clusters in diverse plant species to discover new metabolic pathways and chemistries and to gain insights into plant genome structure, organization, regulation and evolution.

They are also using synthetic biology approaches for cluster engineering and to make functional synthetic clusters (potential ‘syntraits’). 

In addition to the above, Anne developed and co-ordinate the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) Initiative, a cross-curricular science education outreach programme.

Newly-discovered plant enzymes open the door to novel compound production

read more

Using ‘chemical origami’ to generate customisable, high-value chemicals from plants

read more

John Innes Centre scientists mine plant genomes for valuable chemicals

read more

New funding puts Norwich at the heart of green technologies

read more

Recent Publications

Leveau A., Reed J., Qiao X., Stephenson M. J., Mugford S. T., Melton R. E., Rant J. C., Vickerstaff R., Langdon T., Osbourn A. (2018)

Towards take-all control: a C-21ß oxidase required for acylation of triterpene defence compounds in oat.

New Phytologist

Publisher’s version: 10.1111/nph.15456

Nützmann H. W., Scazzocchio C., Osbourn A. (2018)

Metabolic Gene Clusters in Eukaryotes.

Annual Review of Genetics

Publisher’s version: 10.1146/annurev-genet-120417-031237

Stephenson M. J., Reed J., Brouwer B., Osbourn A. (2018)

Transient expression in Nicotiana Benthamiana leaves for triterpene production at a preparative scale.

Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE

Publisher’s version: 10.3791/58169

Li Y., Wang R., Xun X., Wang J., Bao L., Thimmappa R., Ding J., Jiang J., Zhang L., Li T., Lv J., Mu C., Hu X., Zhang L., Liu J., Li Y., Yao L., Jiao W., Wang Y., Lian S., Zhao Z., Zhan Y., Huang X., Liao H., Wang J., Sun H., Mi X., Xia Y., Xing Q., Lu W., Osbourn A., Zhou Z., Chang Y., Bao Z., Wang S. (2018)

Sea cucumber genome provides insights into saponin biosynthesis and aestivation regulation.

Cell discovery 4 p29

Publisher’s version: 10.1038/s41421-018-0030-5

Osbourn A. E., Boutanaev A. M. (2018)

Multigenome analysis implicates miniature inverted-repeat transposable elements (MITEs) in metabolic diversification in eudicots

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Publisher’s version: 10.1073/pnas.1721318115

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Anne Osbourn


For media enquiries, contact the John Innes Centre communications team 01603 450962,

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