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Sibongile Mafu

Assistant Professor

We are interested in the biological chemistry of plant natural products as an opportunity to study nature’s diverse enzymatic chemistry to apply it to development of bio-based products and contribute to sustainable development.  

Plants produce an array of chemicals for adaptation to their ecological environment. These specialized metabolites have been adapted for use as pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals. Our research includes identification and biochemical functional characterization of the enzymes to decipher biosynthetic pathways of interest (with a focus on terpenes) and incorporation of protein engineering to understand the mechanistic basis of enzymes of interest. This contributes to diversification of the collection of enzymes that can then be applied towards developing bio-based sustainable platforms for natural products biosynthesis. 

Areas of the research interest include

• Biochemical functional characterization of enzymes in medicinal plants towards biosynthetic pathway elucidation
• Enzyme catalytic elasticity and influence on chemical diversity
• Metabolic engineering

Academic Background

PhD: Iowa State University
Postdoctoral Training: University of California-Davis

1. Mafu S, and Zerbe P., (2017) Plant diterpenoid metabolism for manufacturing the biopharmaceuticals of tomorrow: prospects and challenges. Photochemistry Reviews. DOI10.1007/s11101-017-9513-5
2. Mafu S, Karunanithi PS, Palazzo TA, Harrod BL, Rodriguez SM, Molhoff IN, O’Brien TE, Tong S, Fiehn O, Tantillo DJ, Bohlmann J, Zerbe P. (2016). Biosynthesis of the microtubule-destabilizing diterpene pseudolaric acid B from golden larch involves an unusual diterpene synthase. PNAS. 2017 114 (5): 974-979
3. Mafu S, Fischer E, Addison JB, Riberio-Barbosana I, Zerbe P. (2016) Substitution of two active site residues alters C9-hydroxylation in class II diterpene synthase. Chembiochem. 17(24) 2304-2307
4. Mafu S, Jia M, Zi J, Morrone D, Wu Y, Xu M, Hillwig ML, Peters RJ. (2016) Probing the promiscuity of ent-kaurene oxidases via combinatorial biosynthesis. PNAS. 113(9):2526-31.
5. Mafu S, Potter KC, Hillwig ML, Schulte S, Criswell J, Peters RJ. (2015) Efficient heterocyclisation by (di) terpene synthases. Chem. Commun. 51(70):13485-7.
 
Contact Info

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
LSL N431
240 Thatcher Road
Amherst, MA 01003-9292

(413) 545-4083
smafu@umass.edu