Microbial Natural Products: Discovery, Biosynthesis, and Antibiotic Activity

Credit: 3 units
Instructor: Ju
Offered: Spring (Cross-Listed with College of Pharmacy)


Microorganisms represent the largest trove of genetic and metabolic diversity in the world. They are responsible for producing a vast array of chemically diverse natural product small molecules. The unique biological and chemical properties of many of these compounds have afforded many valuable applications throughout medicine, agriculture, and biotechnology. Most critically, microbial natural products represent the largest source of antibiotics in use today. Here, we cover the biology behind the chemistry of these molecules and their role in human medicine.

This capstone course is organized into four distinct modules.  First, we examine the different classes of natural products through the lens of biosynthesis -- how the molecules are constructed and diversify. Second, we focus on their function -- not only as antibiotics against human pathogens (mode of action and resistance) but also their proposed functions for the producing organisms. Third, we explore the methods and challenges in natural product discovery and how genomics is revolutionizing the field. This will include the impact of microbial natural products in industrial biotechnology. The final section of the class is dedicated to covering the most recent and significant developments in the field through student research presentations on select topics. 

Lecture Topics:

Students that successfully complete this course will:

  • Knowledgably describe the major types of microbial natural products, their biosynthesis, and function
  • Knowledgeably describe the mode of action of major types of antibiotics
  • Knowledgably describe the common mechanisms of antibiotic resistance
  • Understand current views on the roles of antibiotics in nature and the origin of resistance genes
  • Understand commonly employed methods in natural product discovery
  • Understand the impact of genomics on natural product discovery
  • Critically evaluate research papers on microbial natural products
  • Accurately interpret raw and processed data sets in research papers
  • Identify key findings of research papers and explain them clearly to an audience of peers
  • Identify strong arguments supported by conclusive data; identify weak arguments supported by inconclusive data
  • Argue the merits and/or weaknesses of published work from a knowledgeable perspective

M5194 Syllabus