Sarah O'Connor

Sarah E. O'Connor is an American molecular biologist working to understand the molecular machinery involved in assembling important plant natural products - vinblastine, morphine, iridoids, secologanin - and how changing the enzymes involved in this pathway lead to diverse analogs. She was a Project Leader at the John Innes Centre in the UK between 2011 and 2018. O'Connor was appointed by the Max Planck Society in 2018 to head the Department of Natural Product Biosynthesis at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, taking up her role during 2019.[1]

Sarah O'Connor
Known forplant biosynthesis, enzymology, mutagenesis
Scientific career
InstitutionsJohn Innes Centre, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Doctoral advisorBarbara Imperiali


O'Connor received her Ph.D. working with Barbara Imperiali on conformational effects induced by large proteins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[2] She was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, and later returned to MIT as a professor from 2003 to 2010.


O'Connor's work involves detailed study of many important species of medicinally-relevant plants: Rauvolfia serpentina, Catharanthus roseus, and Aspergillus japonicus. Her lab utilizes bioinformatics and enzyme characterization to uncover new pathways by which plants construct these molecules. Insertion of new enzymes, for example a halogenase[3] or oxidase[4] results in novel variants of the molecules not found in nature.



  1. ^ "Sarah O'Connor will become new director at our institute". Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  2. ^ Viegas, J. (2013-12-02). "Profile of Barbara Imperiali". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (52): 20850–20851. doi:10.1073/pnas.1321020110. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 3876202. PMID 24297879.
  3. ^ Glenn, Weslee S.; Nims, Ezekiel; O’Connor, Sarah E. (2011-12-07). "Reengineering a Tryptophan Halogenase To Preferentially Chlorinate a Direct Alkaloid Precursor". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 133 (48): 19346–19349. doi:10.1021/ja2089348. ISSN 0002-7863. PMID 22050348.
  4. ^ Caputi, Lorenzo; Franke, Jakob; Farrow, Scott C.; Chung, Khoa; Payne, Richard M. E.; Nguyen, Trinh-Don; Dang, Thu-Thuy T.; Carqueijeiro, Inês Soares Teto; Koudounas, Konstantinos (2018-05-03). "Missing enzymes in the biosynthesis of the anticancer drug vinblastine in Madagascar periwinkle". Science. 360 (6394): 1235–1239. doi:10.1126/science.aat4100. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 29724909.
  5. ^ "Wain medal lecture - School of Biosciences - University of Kent". Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  6. ^ Sponge, Creative. "Sarah O'Connor elected into EMBO | John Innes Centre". Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  7. ^ "RSC Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry 2019 Winner". Royal Society of Chemistry. 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  8. ^ "ACS 2022 national award winners". Retrieved 2021-10-04.