Professor Withers is a bio-organic chemist with specific interests in carbohydrate chemistry and enzymology. His research portfolio combines expertise in the physical organic chemistry of enzyme systems with a command of synthetic carbohydrate chemistry, molecular biology and structural biology. He has elucidated mechanisms of enzymatic and non-enzymatic glycosyl transfer, notably thoroughly characterising a number of previously unknown mechanisms by which enzymatic glycosyl transfer can occur. These include mechanisms involving elimination steps well as eliminations coupled with redox activation steps and conjugate addition of water. Using the knowledge and expertise gained through these studies he has developed several new classes of broadly adopted enzyme inhibitors and inactivators that have found use in a variety of applications, most notably as fluorosugar reagents.
More recently Professor Withers has focused on the discovery of new enzymes from metagenomic libraries. In one example his group have discovered a new class of enzymes that efficiently cleave N-acetylgalactosamine from cell surfaces and have used these to efficiently convert full units of A type blood to "universal" O type blood. Given the potential of this approach for easing the world’s blood supply, he has co-founded a company, ABOzymes Biomedical Inc. to develop this technology not only for conversion of red blood cells but also for removal of antigens from organs prior to transplant.
Professor Withers is a passionate advocate of glycoscience research and has inspired younger generations of glycoscientists to bolder and more ambitious studies of carbohydrate-active enzymes. Details for delivery of his award lecture will be announced through the RSC in due course. Many congratulations to Professor Withers.