Biodiscovery of drugs

The University of Aberdeen hosted an afternoon symposium to honour Dr John Lewis on Wednesday, 3 December 2008. Organised by the SCI Scotland network, the event commemorated Dr Lewis’s services to the Scotland Regional Group.

John Lewis joined SCI in 1955. After his appointment as a senior lecturer in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Aberdeen in 1965, he joined the committee of the then Aberdeen and North of Scotland section of SCI. John served as its Secretary from 1974 to 1981, and then became Treasurer from 1984 to 1990. He then also served as Chairman of the newly formed Scotland Regional Group from 2002 to 2005. His services to SCI were recognised by a Distinguished Service Award in 2002.

Dr Lewis kicked off the symposium by reminiscing over the changes seen in organic chemistry since the early 1950s, when chemists started to possess a greater understanding of the mechanisms governing reactions. His presentation ended with an explanation of how ‘luck’ is as important to a scientific breakthrough as knowledge and determination. Dr Lewis was then presented with a ‘quaich’ (a Scottish drinking bowl) by Prof Russell Howe, the present chairman of the SCI Scotland Group Committee.

Prof Joe Connolly from the University of Glasgow then gave a presentation on ‘A lifetime of natural products’, discussing the days before NMR (Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy), when IR and UV spectroscopy were used for structure determination. He went on to discuss his favourite stepping stones in natural product chemistry, and closed with the future of natural product science, including the investigation of previously incorrect structure assignments.

Prof Connolly was followed by Prof Greg Challis of Warwick University. Challis’s presentation was entitled ‘Genome mining for new natural product discovery’. He gave an account of how the interface between biochemistry and organic chemistry is being exploited. His approach utilises genetic sequences to determine the biosynthetic mechanism for the production of new natural products. Investigations are centred on silent genetic pathways, which are used to produce as yet undiscovered products.

The afternoon was concluded by a joint presentation by Prof Marcel Jaspers, Dr Rainer Ebel and Dr Hai Deng of the University of Aberdeen. They gave an account of the new biodiscovery laboratory at Aberdeen, expected to open in June 2009, and spoke of how the new laboratory will help with research.

Ross Macdonald, PhD Student (Aberdeen), SCI Scotland Regional Group Committee

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