Prof Sarah O'Connor

Project Leader
Biological Chemistry

Plants produce hundreds of thousands of complex metabolites called "natural products" that have many uses. Anti-cancer agents such as vinblastine and taxol, the analgesic morphine, and the anti-malarials artemisinin and quinine are each natural products that are produced by a plant. Despite the importance of these compounds, it is unclear how many of these complicated molecules are made by the plant.

Our group elucidates and engineers the metabolic pathways that construct these compounds from simple building blocks. An understanding of these pathways allows us to harness the wealth of compounds and biocatalysts that plants have provided. Moreover, we can also begin to speculate how and why plants evolved to produce some of these molecules.  

We take a multi-disciplinary approach to answering research questions, using plant molecular biology, enzymology and chemical strategies in our group.


Tel: 01603 450334

MIA transport protein no longer missing in action

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Solving a plant-based Rubik’s cube puzzle

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Landmark in biosynthesis of anti-cancer compounds Vinblastine and Topotecan

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Prof. Sarah O'Connor presents Wain Medal Lecture at University of Kent

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Recent Publications

Jakubczyk D., Caputi L., Stevenson C. E., Lawson D. M., O'Connor S. E. (2016)

Structural characterization of EasH (Aspergillus japonicus) - an oxidase involved in cycloclavine biosynthesis.

Chemical Communications 52 p14306-14309

Publisher’s version: 10.1039/c6cc08438a

Stavrinides A., Tatsis E. C., Caputi L., Foureau E., Stevenson C. E. M., Lawson D. M., Courdavault V., O'Connor S. E. (2016)

Structural investigation of heteroyohimbine alkaloid synthesis reveals active site elements that control stereoselectivity

Nature Communications 7 p12116

Publisher’s version: 10.1038/ncomms12116

Tatsis E. C., O'Connor S. E. (2016)

New developments in engineering plant metabolic pathways.

Kries H., O'Connor S. (2016)

Biocatalysts from Alkaloid Producing Plants

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Sarah O'Connor

  • Dr Nathaniel Sherden Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Thu-Thuy Dang Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Hajo Kries Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Anna Stavrinides Postgraduate Student
  • Richard Payne Postgraduate Student
  • Franziska Kellner Postgraduate Student
  • Dr Dorota Jakubczyk Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Lorenzo Caputi Research Assistant
  • Dr Stephanie Brown Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Evangelos Tatsis Postdoctoral Scientist


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


Discovering and designing plant-derived medicines to treat cancer

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