Chemical biology, au naturale?

Hi all,

It’s the one time of the month when you can count on me for a blog entry… our next issue has gone live. This July is our third official focus issue, and we’re talking all about natural products, and particularly my favorite class of biomolecules, the terpenes. The issue is free for about a month, so check it out!

This was a pretty fun issue for me as, among other things, I got to go to Germany and chat with some folks at the Hans Knoell Institute working on all things natural products. In chatting with some other scientists (and Maggie Smallwood in particular) at a subsequent terpene meeting (Terpnet), I discovered that there are still some strange differences in the ways that the general public perceives and regulates metabolic engineering, which you may see reflected in our editorial. We also got a look from Phil Baran and Tom Maimone into the most exciting methods for and significant achievements in terpene synthesis in the last decade.

One of the reasons that I am so fascinated by terpenes has to do with an advanced organic class I took in college. The professor, Seiichi Matsuda, gave us a handout of 88 terpene structures. It was then our responsibility to figure out how to form all these different structures from oxidosqualene just by varying the path of cyclization or the subsequent proton and methyl shifts. The idea that there were enzymes that could control all of these different processes, ending up with only one product (or as a commentary in the issue suggests, a few more) pretty much blew my mind at the time and biosynthesis has entertained me ever since.

Anyway, we hope you like the issue. And if you have any great ideas for upcoming focus issues, we’d love to hear them!

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)