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

Sarah O'Connor elected into EMBO

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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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Sarah O'Connor

  • Benjamin Lichman Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Mohamed Kamileen Technician
  • Jakob Franke Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Scott Farrow Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Katy Davis Student Other
  • Dr Evangelos Tatsis Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Thu-Thuy Dang Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Dorota Jakubczyk Postdoctoral Scientist
  • Dr Lorenzo Caputi Research Assistant
  • Dr Trinh-Don Nguyen Postdoctoral Scientist


2013 Wain Medal

2011 Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award

2011 ACS Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry

2007-2009 Sloan Research Fellowship

2007 Arthur Neisch Young Investigator Award of the North American Phytochemical Society

2007-2010 American Cancer Society Research Scholar

2005-2008 Beckman Young Investigator

2004-2007 Latham Family Career Development Professor

2003-2005 Smith Family Medical Foundation New Investigator

2000-2002 American Chemical Society Irving S. Sigal Postdoctoral Fellowship, Harvard Medical School

1998-1999 American Chemical Society Organic Division Graduate Fellowship, California Institute of Technology

1998 Distinguished Graduate Student Everhart Lecture Series, California Institute of Technology


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


Discovering and designing plant-derived medicines to treat cancer

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