Wilfred A. Van Der Donk
Assistant professor of chemistry
Professor van der Donk joined the UIUC faculty in 1997. His research focuses on the biosynthesis of antibiotics and vitamin B12 catalyzed dechlorination of pollutants. In the area of antibiotics, his laboratory is interested in the mechanism of biosynthesis of the so-called lantibiotics, a class of ribosomally synthesized peptide antibacterial agents. Very recently, the lantibiotic nisin has received much attention for its promise as a potential successor to vancomycin, currently the last barrier against multi-drug resistant Staphylococci and Streptococci. Nisin is a member of the family of lantibiotics, and its biosynthesis has been under investigation in his laboratory. After ribosomal synthesis, the lantibiotic precursor peptide is post-translationally modified to its bioactive forms by multi-enzyme complexes. These transformations include dehydration of serine and threonine residues by a dehydratase to form α,β-unsaturated amino acids in the peptide. Subsequently, a cyclase catalyzes the intramolecular addition of cysteine residues onto these unsaturated centers, and the biosynthesis is usually completed by removal of the N-terminal region of the peptide by a serine protease. This modification process and the protein-protein interaction between the enzymes within the complex are the focus of research that he will carry out during his Center appointment. In particular, studies will be directed to explore the scope of substrates that can be used by the multienzyme complex in an effort to prepare novel antibiotics with potentially interesting medical applications.