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Sarah O'Connor

Sarah O'Connor

Credit: Sebastian Reuter

Dr Sarah O'Connor FRS


Elected: 2023





The molecules that plants make – natural products – are an unrivaled source of medicines. Production of these natural products can be improved by metabolic engineering strategies, but only if we understand the enzymatic basis by which these molecules are made.

Sarah O'Connor has led efforts to elucidate the biosynthetic pathways in plants that are responsible for producing these natural products. Her research group develops methods and resources to discover the biosynthetic genes that make up these pathways. Additionally, her research has uncovered the often unusual and unprecedented enzyme mechanisms that are involved in the biosynthesis of a wide variety of plant natural product pathways. Finally, she and her group use these newly discovered biosynthetic genes to heterologously produce plant natural products in tobacco and yeast.

Sarah's work has been recognized by several awards including the American Chemical Society Ernest Guenther Award (2022) and the Leibniz Prize (2023).

Professional positions

Director, Department of Natural Product Biosynthesis, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

Interest and expertise

Subject groups

  • Chemistry
    • Chemistry, biological
  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology
    • Biochemistry and molecular biology
  • Organismal biology, evolution and ecology
    • Plant sciences / botany


Plant natural products, Biosynthesis, Alkaloids, Terpenoids, Medicinal plants, Industrial Biotechnology

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