CHAST Distinguished Lecture - Life is Sweet: Sugars in Nature

13 October 2008

The 2008 Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Techonology lecture will be given by Professor Ben Davis, of the University of Oxford. The lecture is entitled Life is Sweet.

Ben has been the recipient of many awards from institutions such as the Royal Society and the American Chemical Society. He conducts leading work in the use of Chemistry to answer fundamental questions in Biology, such as ways to prevent HIV and malaria. Much of this work involves understanding and manipulating sugars, which is the subject of this lecture. Ben is the 2008 Cornforth Foundation Lecturer in the School of Chemistry.


Benjamin G. Davis, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford

Sugars are critical biological markers that fuel us, decorate cells, modulate the properties of proteins and can determine the progression of health and disease. Yet, despite these clear indications of their importance, they are often the 3rd, neglected class on biomolecules, the molecules of life. Our work studies the interplay of proteins and sugars. This lecture will discuss the intriguing roles that sugars play in Biology & Medicine and recent developments our laboratory in the Chemical Biology, Synthetic Biology & Chemical Medicine of Sugars & Proteins.

In our research we use all of the tools of organic synthesis and methodology, inhibitor design, biocatalysis, enzyme mechanism, protein engineering, drug delivery, molecular modelling and molecular biology. The application of an understanding of such systems on a fundamental level leads to the design, synthesis and modification of potential therapeutic and biotechnologically applicable systems.

The biological roles of carbohydrates have often been viewed as simple ones: as sources of energy, e.g., glucose, or as polymeric building materials, e.g., chitin in crab shells, cellulose in wood. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that oligosaccharides, carbohydrates in small clusters, act as markers in important recognition processes such as microbial infection, cancer metastasis and cellular adhesion in inflammation, in addition to many intracellular communication events. Their remarkable structural diversity means that oligosaccharides can mediate highly specific and therefore complex processes.

The central roles of proteins in biology have long been appreciated, yet their precise manipulation and redesign is still a vastly uncharted area for exploration. Novel chemical approaches have the potential not only to inform our understanding of their modes of action but will also allow us to redesign structure in line with intended function. The synthesis, manipulation and redesign of naturally occurring carbohydrate-containing and peptide-containing structures (bioconjugates) allows the probing of key biochemical mechanisms and hence, through the understanding of these processes, the development of potential therapeutic strategies. Our work involves experimental techniques ranging from novel synthetic methodology, target synthesis using both biotransformations and conventional synthetic methods to molecular modelling, enzyme kinetics and protein chemistry.

Our research interests, at the exciting and rapidly expanding interface between chemistry and biology, are grouped into the following interlinked themes:

Synthetic Biology: Top-Down, Bottom-Up, Post-translational Modification/ Middle-Out
New Tools for Chemical Medicine: Imaging, Delivery, Treatment
Chemistry for Biology: Peptide, Protein, Oligosaccharide Synthesis
Natural Product Synthesis: Synthetic Methodology in Water
Biology for Chemistry: Biocatalysis, Carbohydrate-Induced Asymmetry, Non-petroleum Feedstock Synthesis, Bioenergy and Biosequestration
Exploring, Exploiting and Designing Proteins: Protein-Protein, Ligand-Protein, Enzyme-Substrate, Enzyme-Inhibitor Interactions
Post-translational Modifications: Synthetic Proteins, Chemical Genetics/SCIBS, Synthetic Biology.

Contact: Dr Valerie Morris

Phone: 02 9351 5080

Email: 057b5a2a3b065d1b763f232b294f553e0d7f0c1c