Prof Anne Osbourn

NRP IBA Director
Metabolic Biology

The Osbourn lab investigates plant-derived natural products - function, synthesis, and mechanisms of metabolic diversification.  Much of our work is focussed on terpenes. An important advance from our lab has been the discovery that genes for specialized metabolic pathways are organized 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.  We 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.  We 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. We 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. We are also using synthetic biology approaches for cluster engineering and to make functional synthetic clusters (potential ‘syntraits’). 


In addition to the above, I 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

Huang A. C., Kautsar S. A., Hong Y. J., Medema M. H., Bond A. D., Tantillo D. J., Osbourn A. (2017)

Unearthing a sesterterpene biosynthetic repertoire in the Brassicaceae through genome mining reveals convergent evolution.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Jul 3. pii: 201705567. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1705567114. pEpub ahead of print

Publisher’s version: 10.1073/pnas.1705567114

Reed J., Stephenson M. J., Miettinen K., Brouwer B., Leveau A., Brett P., Goss R. J. M., Goossens A., O'Connell M. A., Osbourn A. (2017)

A translational synthetic biology platform for rapid access to gram-scale quantities of novel drug-like molecules.

Metabolic Engineering 42 p185-193

Publisher’s version: 10.1016/j.ymben.2017.06.012

Owen C., Patron N. J., Huang A., Osbourn A. (2017)

Harnessing plant metabolic diversity.

Current Opinion in Chemical Biology 40 p24-30

Publisher’s version: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2017.04.015

Kautsar S. A., Suarez Duran H. G., Blin K., Osbourn A., Medema M. H. (2017)

plantiSMASH: automated identification, annotation and expression analysis of plant biosynthetic gene clusters.

Nucleic Acids Research epub pepub

Publisher’s version: 10.1093/nar/gkx305

Zhou Y., Ma Y., Zeng J., Duan L., Xue X., Wang H., Lin T., Liu Z., Zeng K., Zhong Y., Zhang S., Hu Q., Liu M., Zhang H., Reed J., Moses T., Liu X., Huang P., Qing Z., Liu X., Tu P., Kuang H., Zhang Z., Osbourn A., Ro D. K., Shang Y., Huang S. (2016)

Convergence and divergence of bitterness biosynthesis and regulation in Cucurbitaceae.

Nature plants 2 p16183

Publisher’s version: 10.1038/nplants.2016.183

View All

Anne Osbourn

  • Michael Stephenson Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Colette Matthewman Project Manager
  • James Reed Postgraduate Student
  • Dr Jennifer Rant Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Anastasia Orme Postgraduate Student
  • Dr Hans-Wilhelm Nutzmann Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Rachel Melton Research Assistant
  • Thomas Louveau Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Aymeric Leveau Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Ramesha Bheemanahally Thimmappa Postdoctoral Scientist


For media enquiries, please contact the JIC communications team 01603 450962,

JIC Cookie Policy. We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. By clicking any link on this page you are giving your consent for us to set cookies. You can find out more about the cookies by clicking here.

Accept cookies