Wilfred van der Donk is an enzymologist and chemical biologist who studies enzyme mechanisms and biosynthetic pathways to natural products. He is particularly known for his work on understanding and engineering the biosynthesis of ribosomally-synthesized and posttranslationally modified peptides (RiPPs). He was born in Culemborg, the Netherlands and received his B.S. and M.S. in inorganic chemistry from Leiden University, working in the laboratory of Jan Reedijk. He moved to the USA in 1989 to pursue his Ph.D. in organic chemistry under Kevin Burgess at Rice University. After postdoctoral work at MIT with JoAnne Stubbe, he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1997, where he currently holds the Richard E. Heckert Chair in Chemistry. Since 2008, he is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Wilfred van der Donk's laboratory uses organic chemistry, enzymology, bioinformatics and molecular biology to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of enzyme catalysis. Of particular interest in recent years have been enzymatic reactions in the biosynthesis of cyclic peptide antibiotics and phosphonates that are used in medicine and agriculture. His group has employed understanding of the chemistry catalyzed by enzymes to engineer the structures of natural products, to mine genomes for novel compounds with improved or new activities, and to develop enzymes for industrial use. His laboratory discovered a unique example of natural combinatorial biosynthesis of cyclic peptides in which one enzyme generates dozens of polycyclic peptides of very diverse structures and ring topologies, which has raised new questions about their function and evolution.

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Primary Section

Section 21: Biochemistry

Secondary Section

Section 14: Chemistry