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A Structural View of Enzyme Evolution in Chemical Communication



Dr. Paul O'Maille

January 31 at 12:20pm in the Fralin Auditorium, 102 Fralin Hall

Hosted by Dr. D. Tholl


Paul O’Maille, Ph.D., Program Director, Biocomplexity Sciences, SRI International. Dr. O’Maille leads a multidisciplinary research program at SRI to tackle major challenges in biodefence, precision medicine, and agriculture. Dr. O’Maille has two decades experience with protein evolution, engineering and biophysics applied to genotype-phenotype mapping - how an organism’s physical and biochemical traits are encoded by DNA. Dr. O’Maille has secured major contracts and grants from diverse sources including IARPA, DARPA, NSF and NIH. Currently, Dr. O’Maille leads SRI teams on multi-investigator projects for the DARPA MBA program (focused on human performance and resilience) and an NSF funded program on building a ‘Rosetta stone’ for insect chemical communication. Dr. O’Maille earned his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, was an HHMI postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute, and led a research group jointly at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the UK before coming to SRI. In his JIC lab, Dr. O’Maille’s lab has investigated the evolution of plant chemical defense systems, plant-pathogen interactions, and the mode of action of dietary phytochemicals and antibiotics.    

Ecological systems are metabolically interlinked in complex ways. Specialized metabolism is particularly ‘special’ by conferring plants, insects and microbes with the capacity for chemical communication - traits that underlie myriad interactions from pollinator attraction, pathogen attacks and defenses, to symbiotic relationships. Enzyme evolution drives this process, where the emergence of novel catalytic function enables organisms to continually adapt to dynamic ecological interactions. This talk presents a structural and mechanistic picture focusing on the evolution of terpene synthase, a major enzyme family of specialized metabolism, and generalized strategies for pinpoint critical mutational events that gave rise to the emergence of new enzyme function, and hence an expanded lexicon of chemical communication.    

1.              Salmon, M., Laurendon, C., Vardakou, M., Cheema, J., Defernez, M., Green, S., Faraldos, J.A. & O'Maille, P.E. Emergence of terpene cyclization in Artemisia annua. Nat Commun 6, 6143 (2015). Faculty of 1000, Recommended by Gregory Stephanopoulos 

2.              Cheema, J., Faraldos, J.A. & O'Maille, P.E. REVIEW: Epistasis and dominance in the emergence of catalytic function as exemplified by the evolution of plant terpene synthases. Plant science : an international journal of experimental plant biology 255, 29-38 (2017).


This seminar will be livestreamed and recorded on the Fralin YouTube channel.