Professor Sarah E. O’Connor

Group Leader Molecules from Nature

Sarah’s research focuses on elucidating biochemical pathways in plants including those involved in the synthesis of the monoterpenes and the alkaloids, the enzymes involved and the evolution of these pathways.

Sarah works on plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae) and uses modern sequencing and bioinformatics to characterise pathways and identify new genes. This work has led to the development of platforms which allow fast, inexpensive production of compounds.

  • Monoterpene and alkaloid synthesis
  • Evolution of biochemical pathways in plants
  • Synthetic biology for compound production

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.

The O’Connor 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, the group can also begin to speculate how and why plants evolved to produce some of these molecules. They take a multi-disciplinary approach to answering research questions, using plant molecular biology, enzymology and chemical strategies in their group.

Selected Publications

See all of Professor Sarah E. O’Connor's publications