Synthetic Biology Platforms for Natural Product Biosynthesis and Discovery

Friday, May 8, 2015 - 2:00pm
Fung Auditorium, Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall
Christina Smolke

Professor in Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering
Stanford University

Synthetic Biology Platforms for Natural Product Biosynthesis and Discovery


Plants are a rich source of unique scaffolds, including 25% of natural-product-derived drugs. However, the discovery, synthesis, and overall material supply chains for sourcing plant natural products and their derivatives remain ad hoc, biased, and tedious. While microbial biosynthesis presents compelling alternatives to traditional approaches based on extraction from natural plant hosts, many challenges exist in the reconstruction of plant specialized metabolic pathways in microbial hosts. My laboratory has developed novel synthetic biology approaches for complex biosynthesis processes, including geneticallyencoded biosensors to support noninvasive detection of key pathway metabolites and spatial engineering strategies to direct the activities and specificities of pathway enzymes. We have utilized these strategies to develop yeast-based production platforms for an important class of plant alkaloids, the benzylisoquinoline alkaloids. These synthetic biology platforms will lead to transformative advances in natural product discovery, drug development, and production.


Christina D. Smolke is an Associate Professor, Associate Chair of Education, and W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar in the Department of Bioengineering and, by courtesy, Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. Christina's research program develops foundational tools that drive transformative advances in our ability to engineering biology. For example, her group has led the development of a novel class of biological I/O devices, fundamentally changing how we interact with and program biology. Her group uses these tools to drive transformative advances in diverse areas such as cellular therapies and natural product biosynthesis and drug discovery. Christina is an inventor on over 15 patents and her research program has been honored with numerous awards, including the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, WTN Award in Biotechnology, and TR35 Award.