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 (


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

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John Innes Centre scientists mine plant genomes for valuable chemicals

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New funding puts Norwich at the heart of green technologies

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Recent Publications

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

Salmon M., Thimmappa R., Minto R., Melton R., Hughes R., O'Maille P., Hemmings A. M., Osbourn A. (2016)

A conserved amino acid residue critical for product and substrate specificity in plant triterpene synthases.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113(30) pE4407-E4414

Publisher’s version: 10.1073/pnas.1605509113

Nuetzmann H. W., Huang A., Osbourn A. (2016)

Tansley Review: Plant metabolic clusters - from genetics to genomics

Yu N., Nützmann H. W., MacDonald J. T., Moore B., Field B., Berriri S., Trick M., Rosser S. J., Kumar S. V., Freemont P. S., Osbourn A. (2016)

Delineation of metabolic gene clusters in plant genomes by chromatin signatures.

Nucleic Acids Research 44 p1-11

Publisher’s version: 10.1093/nar/gkw100

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


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