Directing biosynthesis online

12 - 13 April 2021



You are warmly invited to join us online in April 2021. The Directing Biosynthesis conference has been a key meeting in the biosynthetic research calendar for over a decade and is set to be a highlight in 2021 for the community of researchers interested in the biosynthesis of natural products.

Organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the 2021 conference will host some of the leading researchers from around the world. Networking and discussion are an important part of Directing Biosynthesis meetings and this remains true for the online forum.

The conference promises to be a great forum for established and early-career scientists, post-graduate students and industrial researchers to network with each other and build strong collaborations for the future.

On behalf of the organising committee, I look forward to welcoming you to our online conference.
Greg Challis University of Warwick


Directing Biosynthesis online will cover all aspects of microbial, plant and marine natural products research, including:
  • Natural product discovery
  • Genetics, enzymology and structural biology of natural product biosynthesis
  • Biosynthetic engineering and synthetic biology
  • Biological function and mechanism of action
  • Industrial applications of natural products and biosynthetic enzymes


The Royal Society of Chemistry is keen to encourage and enable as many people as possible to attend our events, to benefit from the networking opportunities and the chance to hear talks from leaders in the field. If you would like to discuss accessibility, or have childcare, caring responsibilities or other care needs, please contact us to discuss your requirements so that we can enable your attendance. 


Jennifer Andexer, University of Freiburg, Germany

Jennifer Andexer studied Biology at the University of Duesseldorf. After her diploma, she carried out her doctoral research working on novel hydroxynitrile lyases at the Institute of Molecular Enzyme Technology (University of Duesseldorf/Research Centre Juelich) in the groups of Thorsten Eggert, Karl-Erich Jaeger and Martina Pohl. In 2008, she moved to the labs of Joe Spencer, Finian Leeper and Peter Leadlay at the University of Cambridge, where she worked on enzymes from biosynthetic pathways of different natural products. She has been head of the Chemical Biology group at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Freiburg since 2011, and works on the characterisation of cofactor-dependent enzymes, cofactor regeneration systems and cofactor analogues. In 2020, she was appointed Heisenberg Professor of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry. She is a principal investigator in the RTG 1976 (DFG), an ERC starting grant project and was awarded the Heinz Maier-Leibniz Prize of the DFG in 2018.

Christine Beemelmanns, Leibniz Institute, Germany

Dr. Beemelmanns studied Chemistry at the RWTH Aachen. She then went to Japan for a one year research stay in the group of Prof.  Sodeoka at RIKEN.  Back in Germany she worked at the FU Berlin with Prof. Reißig and received her PhD in Organic Chemistry. She then worked another six month in Japan at the University of Tokyo under the supervision of Prof K. Suzuki and joined shortly afterwards the group of Prof. Clardy at Harvard Medical School (Boston) in 2011. End of 2013, she received a call from the Hans-Knöll Institute (HKI) to work there as a Junior Research Group leader in the field of Natural Products Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Her research combines different aspects of chemical ecology and organic and natural product chemistry and aims to chemically and functionally characterize microbial signaling and defense molecules in different model systems. By analyzing ancient and evolved microbial interactions, unprecedented chemical core structures with potential pharmaceutical application are likely to appear.

Yit-heng Chooi, University of Western Australia, Australia

Dr Yit-Heng (Heng) Chooi completed his PhD at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He then worked with Prof Yi Tang at University of California, Los Angeles (2009-2013) focusing on the molecular genetics and biochemical basis of secondary metabolite biosynthesis in fungi. He moved back to Australia in 2013 to take up an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) at the Research School of Biology, Australian National University in Canberra. There, he focused on uncovering the biosynthesis of hidden secondary metabolites encoded in the genomes of fungal plant pathogens and their contribution to plant disease development. In 2015, he moved to the beautiful sunny Perth in Western Australia and joined the faculty at the School of Chemistry & Biochemistry (now School of Molecular Sciences) in The University of Western Australia (UWA). Dr Chooi was awarded the prestigious ARC Future Fellowship in 2016 to continue his research in the interdisciplinary field. His current research is focusing on understanding secondary metabolite biosynthesis of fungi, the roles of secondary metabolites in plant and animal fungal pathogen-host interactions, and enzyme and natural product discovery by genome mining.

Marcio Dias, University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Marcio received his B.S in Biology from the University of State of São Paulo, Brazil in 2004 and his Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics from the Department of Physics from the same University in 2007. Still, in 2007, he moved to the UK to start a Post Doctoral training at the Laboratory of Prof. Sir Tom Blundell, Department of Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge. His project aimed to apply protein crystallography in fragment-based drug discovery approaches, and the understanding of enzymes from natural product biosynthesis in collaboration with Prof. Cris Abell and Dr. Joe Specer, respectively. In 2011, he moved back to Brazil to hold a Yong Research fellowship from FAPESP to start his independent career at the National Laboratory of Bioscience (LNBio, Campinas). In 2014, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology in the Institute of Biomedical Science from the University of São Paulo. In 2018, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemistry, the University of Warwick. In 2021, he moved back to the University of São Paulo, although still holds a link with the University of Warwick as an honorary associate professor. His research interests include applying fragment-based drug discovery to key targets from Mycobacterium and exploring structures of relevant enzymes from natural product biosynthesis, particularly those from aminoglycosides and polyketides.

Hajo Kries, Leibniz-HKI, Germany

Hajo Kries obtained his degrees in Biochemistry (BSc) from the University of Geneva and in Chemistry (MSc) from ETH Zurich (Switzerland). He received a PhD in Chemistry from ETH Zurich for his work in the lab of Donald Hilvert on enzyme design and engineering. For his PhD thesis, he was awarded the ETH medal and the Friedrich-Weygand-Prize. In Sarah E. O’Connor’s lab at the John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK), he worked on the enzymology of iridoid biosynthesis as an SNF and Marie Skłodowska-Curie post-doctoral fellow. In 2016, he became leader of the junior research group Biosynthetic Design of Natural Products at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (HKI) in Jena (Germany). With the aim to develop tailor-made natural products, he is currently investigating engineering methods for nonribosomal peptide synthetases. His group combines synthetic biology, nanobiotechnology, and promiscuity-guided directed evolution methods to reprogram nonribosomal enzymes.

Tomáš Pluskal, Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Czech Republic

Tomáš Pluskal obtained his MSc in Computer Science from the Charles University in Prague in 2004. After his graduation he moved to Japan and pursued research in fission yeast metabolomics at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. His name is well recognized in the metabolomics community owing to the popular MZmine platform for mass spectrometry data processing, which he developed. Tomáš received his PhD in Molecular Biotechnology from Hiroshima University in 2014. During his postdoctoral research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research he elucidated the biosynthetic pathway of psychoactive molecules called kavalactones in a non-model plant kava (Piper methysticum). In 2020 Tomáš returned to Prague and currently he is running a new lab at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In his own lab, he aims to combine the expertise from computer science and biochemistry and find novel high-throughput methods for characterizing specialized metabolic pathways in plants.

Anna Vagstad, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Anna earned a PhD in Chemical Biology from Johns Hopkins University in 2012 where she studied the biosynthetic programming of fungal polyketide synthases under Prof. Craig Townsend. In 2013, she moved to Switzerland and received an ETH Zurich Postdoctoral Fellowship to study in the lab of Prof. Jörn Piel in the Institute of Microbiology at ETH Zurich. Her research focused on peptide-modifying radical S-adenosyl methionine enzymes. She continues as a senior scientist in the Piel group, pursuing projects on bacterial ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptide natural products. Anna has a keen interest in the discovery of novel pathways and enzymes, elucidating their mechanistic details and exploiting their use as tools in peptide engineering. In 2020, she was awarded a Novartis FreeNovation grant.

Coran Watanabe, Texas A&M University, United States

Dr. Watanabe received her B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Hawaii, Manoa.She obtained her Ph.D. degree with Dr. Craig Townsend at The Johns Hopkins University and followed with postdoctoral research with Dr. Peter Schultz at the University of California, Berkeley and The Scripps Research Institute.She began her faculty position at Texas A&M University Department of Chemistry in 2002.She has received a number of awards including a Research Corporation Innovation Award, a Rising Star ACS PROGRESS, Dreyfus Lectureship Award, and an American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award.
Nature and in particular natural products inspire the research interests of her laboratory, after all >50% of all small molecule drugs on the market are natural products or derived from natural product leads.At Texas A&M University, she has established a multidisciplinary natural products research program, which is supported by several project directions: [1] Biosynthesis of the azinomycin class of anti-tumor agents, [2] Lipofuscins in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), [3] Marine natural product drug development, [4] Neurospora Crassa/Ergothionene Supplementation.

Gavin Williams, North Carolina State University, United States

Dr. Williams received his B.Sc. with First Class Honors from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth (1998) and a Ph.D. in chemical biology from the University of Leeds, England (2002). He then completed postdoctoral research at the University of Leeds with Prof. Adam Nelson (chemistry) and Prof. Alan Berry (molecular and structural biology) where he created tailored aldolase enzymes for the synthesis of sugars. He then moved to the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a research scientist with Prof. Jon Thorson where he engineered enzymes involved in natural product glycosylation. He has been at NC State University since 2009 where his research group uses protein engineering, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology to reprogram the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, including polyketides and terpenes. Dr. Williams received the NSF Career Award in 2012, the 2014 Sigma Xi Research Award, was named a University Faculty Scholar in 2015, is a member of the Comparative Medicine Institute at NC State, and in 2019 was named a LORD Corporation Distinguished Scholar. He served as the Associate Head since 2018 and was appointed Interim Department Head in 2021

Jaclyn Winter, University of Utah, United States

Jackie Winter obtained her B.S. in Chemistry and Molecular Genetics from the State University of New York College at Fredonia and obtained her Ph.D. in Marine Natural Product Biosynthesis under the guidance of Professor Bradley Moore at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her dissertation focused on elucidating the biosynthesis of halogenated natural products isolated from marine-derived actinomycete bacteria. As a graduate student, she was awarded a predoctoral Marine Biotechnology Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, as well as the Claude ZoBell fellowship award. After graduate school, Jackie carried out a postdoctoral appointment with Professor Christian Hertweck at the Hans Knöll Institute and Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Jena, Germany where she isolated and characterized bioactive natural products from filamentous fungi. For her second postdoctoral appointment, Jackie joined the laboratory of Professor Yi Tang at UCLA where she explored the biosynthesis of fungal polyketides and developed techniques to manipulate these biosynthetic systems in order to expand their natural product capabilities. While at UCLA, she was awarded the L’Oréal/AAAS USA postdoctoral fellowship for Women in Science. In 2015, Jackie joined the Medicinal Chemistry Department as an Assistant Professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Utah. Her current research is focused on exploring the biomolecular chemistry of natural products produced by filamentous fungi and actinomycete bacteria with the goal of using these use these organisms as resources for the discovery and development of new antibiotic agents.

Abstract Submission

Poster Abstracts

The deadline for poster abstracts has passed. Posters will be on display throughout the meeting.

Please read the registration information before registering.

Registration includes:
  • Attendance at the sessions
  • Access to view the online posters
  • Online networking opportunities with other registered delegates
  • A web copy of the abstract book
Catagory Registration fee
Member* £55
Non-member** £75
Student member* £25
Student non-member** £35

Prices above do not include VAT. This will be added during registration at the prevailing rate.

* If you are an Royal Society of Chemistry member and wish to register for this meeting, please select the member option on the online registration page. You will need to enter your membership number.

**For non-member registrants, affiliate membership of the Royal Society of Chemistry until the end of 2021, the affiliate membership application will be processed and commence once the registrant has attended the event.  

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Researcher Development Grant

If you are an RSC member and a PhD student or postdoctoral researcher based at a higher education or research institution you are eligible to apply for a Researcher Development Grant.

This grant can provide up to £250 towards activities that will develop your skills and experience as a researcher, which includes registration fees for virtual conferences.

Applications are processed monthly, with the deadline for each round being the last day of the month, and decisions being sent out by the 21st of the following month. Researcher Development Grants can be applied for in addition to Grants for Carers and Assistance Grants.

Grants for Carers

Grants for carers have been introduced following the Royal Society of Chemistry Breaking the barriers report where 78% of chemists working in UK academia felt that managing parenting and/or caring responsibilities has an impact on women’s retention and progression. This fund is not limited to women scientists and welcomes applications from anyone with caring responsibilities. These grants have been supported by The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemists’ Community Fund.

You can apply for up to a maximum of £1000/year to assist with additional financial costs that you incur for care usually provided by you whilst you attend a chemistry related meeting, conference or workshop or a professional development event.

Caring responsibilities are wide and varied, and so each application will be individually assessed, examples of applications that we will consider include:
  • paying for extra home help or nursing care for a dependent whilst you will not be present
  • additional medical/respite care for a dependent whilst you will not be present
  • travel expenses for a relative to travel with you to care for dependents whilst you attend a meeting or event
  • paying for extended hours with a care worker/childminder/play scheme to cover time when you will arrive home later than normal.
You are eligible to apply if: 
  • you are a chemist
  • you will incur additional caring expenses whilst attending a chemistry-related meeting, conference, event or workshop or a professional development event
  • you will use these funds to cover the cost of care that you usually provide 
  • you are based in the UK or Ireland or if not, you will normally have held three years RSC membership (past or current).
Sponsorship & exhibitors
A selection of sponsorship opportunities is available for companies who would like to promote their activities at Directing Biosynthesis online. 

If you would like more information about sponsoring Directing Biosynthesis VI , please contact the Commercial Sales Department at the Royal Society of Chemistry ( 

We are very pleased to announce the following companies will be exhibiting at Directing Biosynthesis online: Sponsorship Menu
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