School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Event items

Extreme Drug Discovery: Finding New Medicines From Extreme Environments

Chemistry Seminar Series - Professor Marcel Jaspars, Marine Biodiscovery Centre, University of Aberdeen

Date/Time: Tuesday 30 October, 14:00 - 15:00

Venue: Room 2.76, Bedson Building


Natural products have an excellent track record in the discovery of novel pharmaceuticals to treat infections and cancer.

The use of plants and microorganisms is common, but two major problems are the:

  • repeated rediscovery of known compounds
  • difficulty in sourcing a sustainable supply for downstream clinical applications

In this presentation, I will show how both these roadblocks to the effective use of natural products in pharmaceutical discovery can be overcome.

The solutions rely on the use of novel biological diversity to source novel chemical diversity and the application of molecular genetics to create a biotechnological platform to increase supply and make analogues.

The use of marine invertebrates has shown itself to be a valuable source of structural diversity with a significant degree of difference between ‘marine’ and ‘terrestrial’ carbon frameworks.

However, marine invertebrate-derived compounds still suffer from the lack of a reliable supply. For this reason, we have started to investigate marine bacteria, in particular those from deep-sea and cold habitats.

Other extremophile habitats we have been exploring for unique bacterial diversity are the hyper-arid Atacama desertand high and low pH environments.

All these habitats give taxonomically unique bacteria with a high degree of divergence from known strains, and produce novel chemistry.

The use of bacteria gives a sustainable supply of the compound of interest and a limited set of analogues. However, to access further analogues is difficult without a synthetic chemistry approach.

We have recently shown the use of biosynthetic enzymes in vitro to generate complex macrocyclic peptides containing heterocycles, commonly known as the cyanobactins.

This platform technology promises to make available a vast Universe of novel chemical entities using a biotechnological approach.