The 3rd Herbal Research Webinar Series 2023 was conducted online via Zoom on 14th June 2023, hosted by the Herbal Research Group of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD). Dr Chin-Soon Phan, a post-doc research fellow from the Department of Pharmacy, National Univesity of Singapore (NUS), was invited as the guest speaker for the event. Dr Phan’s research work on natural products across various countries initiated in Malaysia before he transferred to Australia, Japan and now Singapore. During the webinar, Dr Phan shared about his research work and experiences in a talk entitled “Natural Products – Biosynthesis”. Some 30 participants including staff, students and alumni from different faculties and departments of UBD, Ministry of Health, Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) Agro-Technology and Applied Sciences and Universiti Sains Malaysia attended the event.
As an opening to his talk, Dr Phan emphasized the importance of natural product biosynthesis. He explained a bit about his research journey, and how his research direction took a turn from conventional natural product chemistry to natural product biosynthesis. He is now focusing on genomic studies to identify organisms that harbour enzymes crucial for the synthesis of novel bioactive compounds. One of his most profound achievements was the discovery of a new class of cyanobactins (a natural product), via the detection of a new prenyltransferase enzyme, AgcF, from cyanobacteria that was able to achieve bis-prenylation on arginine (an amino acid) whilst activities of other known prenyltransferase were restricted to tyrosine, tryptophan, serine and threonine. He highlighted that the revelation of such enzymes offers the potential to improve peptide stability and enhanced therapeutic activity, as shown in his work.
After elaborating on the steps taken to achieve his discovery of the novel prenyltransferase, Dr Phan proceeded to share about another one of his projects that made use of bioinformatic tools to uncover a new trypsin inhibitor, nostotin G. Moving on, he expanded on the importance of radical S-Adenosyl methionine (SAM) enzymes in the synthesis of novel Darobactin antibiotics (that selectively kills gram-negative bacteria) as well as the catalysis bond formations that otherwise difficult to achieve via chemical means. This has led him to produce impactful work as he was able to incorporate genome mining and protein modification techniques to engineer a new radical SAM enzyme that could manipulate peptide bond formation.
Also part of Dr Phan’s presentation was the sharing of the findings from his study on the isolation of new bioactive natural products from soft corals, seaweed and sponges in Malaysia. Through this study, he identified a compound with potent activity against adult T-cell leukaemia cells and anti-inflammatory activity in lipopolysaccharide-induced macrophages. Through his other work, he was also able to demonstrate biosynthetic pathways for the compounds isolated from a fungal source and their inhibitory actions on wheat germination.
To conclude, Dr Phan reiterated his research journey and how it has influenced the direction of his future research work. In addition to his past experiences working with experts in the field, he also shared tips and resources that aspiring researchers can look into in order to achieve their goals.
As usual, the closing of the webinar series was complemented with a virtual group photo with the participants followed by a session of questions and answers from the participants and speaker. To access, the video recording of the 3rd Herbal Research Webinar Series 2023, please follow the link: https://youtu.be/w-op0wrgYiM.