Current Members

Admin | PostDocs | Grad Students
PROGRAM MANAGER

Nan Holda

600 S. Mathews Ave
161 Roger Adams Laboratory, Box 49-5, MC-712
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: 217-244-5450
Email: holda[at]illinois.edu

 

 

 
POSTDOCTORAL ASSOCIATES

Mark C. Walker

  • B.A. 2004: Oberlin College
  • Ph.D. 2013: University of California – Berkeley
  • mwlkr[at]Illinois.edu
  • Mark Walker was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. He received a B.A. in Biochemistry from Oberlin College, where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. William Fuchsman studying redox reactions catalyzed by oxidized hemoglobin and myoglobin. From Oberlin he moved to Berkeley, CA, where he worked in analytical development groups at Dey Laboratories and Genentech before starting graduate school at UC Berkeley in 2007. At Berkeley he worked in the lab of Dr. Michelle Chang on organofluorine biosynthesis. In 2013 he moved back east to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to join the van der Donk lab for postdoctoral work on engineering lanthipeptides towards novel targets.

Debapriya “Priya” Dutta

  • B.S. 2005: West Bengal University of Technology, India
  • Ph.D. 2012: University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
  • duttad[at]Illinois.edu
  • Priya Dutta was born in Calcutta, India. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from the West Bengal University of Technology, India, she joined the University of Florida for her Ph.D. Under the supervision of Prof. Christiaan Leeuwenburgh and with a pre-doctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association, she studied the functions of a cellular self-digestion process called autophagy in the heart. She showed that under conditions of enhanced oxidative stress, autophagy serves to chew up damaged proteins and organelles, leading to a cardioprotective effect, observed both in cultured cardiomyocytes and in rodent hearts. After graduating in summer 2012, she joined the van der Donk lab as a postdoctoral associate, working on elucidating the functions of LanCL proteins in mammalian systems. Coming from the land of Royal Bengal Tigers, Priya is currently raising a formidable colony of mice. With their help, Priya is working towards uncovering LanCL’s secrets.

Liujie Huo

  • M.S.: Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland, Saarland University, Germany
  • Ph.D.: Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Saarland University, Germany.
  • lhuo[at]Illinois.edu
  • Liujie received his Ph.D from the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland under the guidance of Professor Rolf Müller. Now he is working on lanthipeptide biosynthesis.

Ian Bothwell

  • B.S., 2007: Southwestern University
  • Ph.D. 2015: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • bothwell[at]Illinois.edu
  • Ian grew up in Texas, he went to Southwestern University for chemistry degree. Afterwards, he received his Ph.D from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, under the guidance of Prof. Minkui Luo.

Michael Funk

  • B.S., 2008: Vanderbilt University
  • Ph.D. 2015: MIT
  • michael.a.funk[at]gmail.com
  • Michael grew up in Tennessee and earned his Bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt University in Chemistry and Biology in 2008. While at Vanderbilt, he learned X-ray crystallography with Prof. Tina Iverson and collaborated with Prof. Brian Bachmann to crystallize a flavin-dependent amine oxidase involved in the biosynthesis of several antimicrobial compounds. For his graduate work, he attended MIT and worked with Prof. Cathy Drennan to solve structures of radical enzymes in primary metabolism of bacteria, including benzylsuccinate synthase, choline trimethylamine lyase, and anaerobic ribonucleotide reductase. Michael graduated from MIT with a PhD in Biological Chemistry in 2015 and joined the van der Donk group to investigate novel chemistry in lanthipeptide biosynthesis.

Julian Hegemann

  • M.S., 2011: Philipps-University, Marburg, Germany
  • Ph.D. 2014: Marahiel Lab, Philipps-University, Marburg, Germany
  • jdhegemann[at]googleemail.com
  • Julian grew up in a small town in the state of Hesse in Germany and studied chemistry at the Philipps-University Marburg. For his diploma and later his PhD thesis in biochemistry he worked in the group of Prof. Mohamed Marahiel, where he focused on the isolation, characterization and biosynthesis of novel lasso peptides and their potential applications. After finishing his work there in the beginning of 2016, he now joined the van der Donk lab to study lanthipeptides.

Graeme William Howe

  • B.Sc. 2011: University of Toronto
  • Ph.D. 2016: University of Toronto
  • gwhowe[at]illinois.edu
  • Graeme Howe was born and raised in Toronto and completed his Bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Toronto. During this time, he worked in the lab of Prof. Dwight Seferos developing novel organic photovoltaics and characterizing their optoelectronic properties with computational chemistry. His graduate studies were conducted under the supervision of Prof. Ronald Kluger at the University of Toronto. In the Kluger lab, he studied the mechanism of decarboxylation of organic compounds with a particular focus on synthetic analogues of intermediates formed on thiamin diphosphate-dependent enzymes. In 2016, Graeme joined the van der Donk lab to study the catalytic mechanism of phosphite dehydrogenase.

Chi Pan Ting

  • M.S. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Ph.D. 
  • chiting1[at]illinois.edu
  • Chi doesn’t want people to know his mysterious past.


 

 
GRADUATE STUDENTS
 

 

Class of 2011

 

Xiling Zhao

  • B.S. 2011: University of California, San Diego
  • xzhao19[at]illinois.edu
  • Xiling was born in New York City and raised in San Diego. In 2011, she completed her B.S. in chemistry from UCSD where her research, in the laboratory of Prof. Pieter C. Dorrestein, focused on imaging mass spectrometry. Shortly after her graduation, Xiling moved to Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. As a member of the van der Donk group, she is currently studying lantibiotics.
 
 Class of 2012

 

Nidhi Kakkar

  • B.Sc. 2010: Chemistry, St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India
  • M.Sc. 2012: Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), Mumbai, India
  • Diploma in Chemical Education, 2010: Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, India
  • nkakkar2[at]illinois.edu
  • Nidhi Kakkar was born and raised in New Delhi, India. She attended St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, India, graduating with a degree in Chemistry in 2010. As a Project Oriented Chemical Education (POCE) student, she did two summer research projects under the guidance of Prof. C.N.R. Rao at JNCASR, Bangalore in 2009 and 2010, and received her diploma in Chemical Education in 2010. During the summer of 2011, as a Summer Research Fellowship Program (SRFP) student at JNCASR, she did a research project under the supervision of Prof. G.U. Kulkarni. She received her Master’s degree in Chemistry from IITB in 2012. While there, she conducted her Master’s thesis research in Prof. K. Kaliappan’s laboratory and worked on the synthesis of novel C-benzofuranyl glycosides. In the fall of 2012, she moved to Illinois to pursue her doctoral degree and joined the van der Donk group, where she is currently working on incorporation of non-canonical amino acids into lantibiotics.

Emily Ulrich

  • B.A. 2010: Macalester College
  • eulrich2[at]illinois.edu
  • Emily grew up in Madison, WI. She attended Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and received her B.A. in chemistry and biology. Her undergraduate research experiences included synthesizing natural product analogues in Prof. Rebecca Hoye’s lab at Macalester and synthesizing unnatural amino acid-containing oligomers in the Gellman lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Before graduate school, she worked at 3M on a product development team. Emily joined the van der Donk lab in the fall of 2012, and she is currently working on phosphonate biosynthesis.
 
Class of 2013

 

Silvia Bobeica

  • B.A. 2013: Colgate University
  • bobeica2[at]illinois.edu
  • Silvia was born in Romania and was a fan of chemistry and mathematics in high school. As an undergrad, she went to Colgate University, where she worked on the synthesis of possibly bioactive carbon linked glycopeptide mimetics under the guidance of Prof. Ernest Nolen. Silvia is working on lantibiotics in the van der Donk lab and celebrated joining the group by running a marathon. Silvia’s hobbies include figure skating, watching gymnastics, and long distance running.

Kenton Hetrick

  • A.B. 2007:  Harvard University
  • khetric2[at]illinois.edu
  • Kenton grew up in Fremont, Ohio. He attended college at Harvard University, where he graduated with a degree in Chemistry and Anthropology in 2007. Following college, he worked as an analytical chemist at Merck & Co. in Pennsylvania. However, after six years of assured and ample income, he decided life lacked adventure and chose to go to graduate school in the most exciting town east of Mahomet and west of Danville: Champaign-Urbana. He joined the van der Donk research group in October 2013 and now lives in Urbana with his wife and daughter. Kenton’s research interests include directed evolution and lanthipeptides.

Abraham Wang

  • B.A. 2012: Vanderbilt University
  • kawang2[at]illinois.edu
  • Abraham grew up in Knoxville, TN before attending Vanderbilt University, where he graduated in May 2012 with a major in Chemistry and a minor in Philosophy. He then stayed at Vanderbilt for an additional year working in the laboratory of Dr. David Wright on the discovery of novel antimalarials. In the fall of 2013 he joined the van der Donk group at UIUC to study phosphonates.

Zhengan Zhang

  • B.S. 2013: Wuhan University, China
  • zzhng116[at]illinois.edun

Zhengan was born in Zhengzhou, China. He received his degree in chemistry from Wuhan University, where he conducted research in Prof. Xiang Zhou’s lab, focusing on developing G-quadruplex cross-linking agents and in vivo functionalization of DNA. He came to UIUC to pursue a PhD in chemistry and joined Prof. van der Donk’s lab in 2013. Now he is working on thiopeptide biosynthesis.

 
Class of 2014

 

Linna An

  • B.S. 2014: University of Science and Technology of China
  • linnaan2[at]illinois.edu
  • Linna grew up in Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. She attended the University of Science and Technology of China, where she graduated with a degree in Chemistry in 2014. During the four year study, she participated in 2011 iGEM and discovered the fun of scientific discovery. For that reason, she joined Prof. Gaolin Liang’s lab and learned to apply click chemistry in molecular imaging and therapeutics. After that, she came to UIUC to pursue a deeper understanding of how chemistry functions in biological systems. She is currently studying self-immunity of antibiotic producers and the mode of action of lantibiotics.

Subhanip Biswas

  • B.S. 2012: Presidency College (Now known as Presidency University), University of Calcutta
  • M.S. 2014: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur
  • biswas6[at]illinois.edu
  • Subhanip grew up in India, where he attended Presidency College for a chemistry degree. Now he works on the antimicrobial peptide sublancin.

Chang He

  • B.S. 2014: Sichuan University, China
  • changhe2[at]illinois.edu
  • Chang grew up in Suzhou, China. She attended Sichuan University. Now she works on understanding the function of LanCL.

Kuan-Yu “Nick” Lai

  • B.S. 2010, National Taiwan University
  • klai7[at]illinois.edu
  • Nick grew up in Taipei. He got his bachelor degree at National Taiwan University and served in the army soon after he graduated. Upon finishing his military service, he worked at Academia Sinica under the supervision of Dr. Che-Kun James Shen. His project focused on the function of Zinc Finger Protein 568 in mammalian brain development and cell linage determination in embryonic stem cell. In 2014, he joined Prof. van der Donk’s lab at UIUC, where he is uncovering the secrets of LanCLs in mammalian systems.
 
 Class of 2015

 

Marc Ryan Gancayco

  • B.S. 2011, San Jose State University
  • gancayc2[at]illinois.edu
  • Marc grew up in San Jose, California and received a degree in Chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry in 2015 from San Jose State University. Marc’s current research interest is to determine the mode of action of sublancin 168, an S-linked glycopeptide bacteriocin. Besides, Marc Ryan Gancayco received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work describing the microbial biochemistry of midichlorians and their connection to the Force. His work led to the development of a midichlorian count blood test, used to determine a being’s potential in the Force.

Martin Irving Harrison McLaughlin

  • B.S. 2015, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • mimclau2[at]illinois.edu
  • Martin grew up in State College, PA. He received an S. B. in Chemistry from MIT in 2015, where he worked in the laboratory of Prof. Cathy Drennan, structurally characterizing the [4Fe-4S] cluster destruction catalyzed by lipoyl synthase. In December 2015, he joined the van der Donk lab to study phosphonate biosynthesis.
 Class of 2016

 

Imran Reazur Rahman

  • B.S. 2015, University of California, San Diego
  • irahman2[at]illinois.edu
  • Imran grew up in San Jose, California and received a degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology in 2015 from UC San Diego, where he worked under Prof. Bradley Moore in the isolation, biosynthesis, and ecology of brominated marine natural products. Imran’s current research interests lie in determining the mechanistic enzymology behind a class II lantipeptide synthetase substrate recognition and channeling. In addition, he is also exploring unusual modifications occurring in a fungal RiPP pathway.

Max Simon

  • B.S. 2015
  • msimon10[at]illinois.edu
  • Max grew up in Oceanside, NY. He received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University at Buffalo, SUNY in 2016. As an undergrad he worked in the laboratory of Prof. Blaine Pfeifer on erythromycin production and optimization in a heterologous host system, as well as producing erythromycin analogues. After graduation he moved to Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in the van der Donk group as a bioengineer. He is currently working on elucidating the fosfomycin pathway in Pseudomonas.

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