Biographical Sketch

John W. Frost is Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Plant Products and Technologies at Michigan State University. He earned his B.S. in Chemistry from Purdue University and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.

Professor Frost’s research group genetically engineers microbes for use as synthetic catalysts and interfaces these biocatalysts with traditional chemical catalysis. Recent research focuses on elaboration of microbe-catalyzed syntheses of starting materials critical to the manufacture of pharmaceuticals as a replacement for the current isolation of these starting materials from exotic natural sources. Hoffmann La Roche has licensed a microbe developed by the Frost group for synthesis of shikimic acid, the starting material used for manufacture of the antiinfluenza drug sold under the trade name Tamiflu.

The Frost group is internationally recognized for its research in the field of green chemistry, where group research is directed toward creation of sustainable, environmentally benign syntheses of a variety of chemicals. These syntheses are catalyzed by genetically engineered microbes and utilize nontoxic starting materials such as glucose derived from renewable feedstocks such as starch or cellulose. In contrast, current chemical manufacture is dominated by the use of toxic starting materials such as benzene, which is derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable feedstock.

For their research efforts in this area, Professor Frost and his collaborator and wife, Dr. Karen M. Draths, were awarded the 1998 Academic Award of the US EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge for Use of Microbes as Environmentally Benign Synthetic Catalysts (Award Summary). 

Professor Frost has served in various capacities including consultant and scientific advisory board member for numerous corporations including Genencor International, Viridis, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill, Givaudan, Dow Chemical, and Codexis.

Research Interests

Research projects in the Frost lab delve into biocatalysis and natural product biosynthesis. One aspect of our biocatalytic efforts focuses on the creation within intact microbes of biosynthetic pathways that do not exist in nature. These recombinant microbes are then used to catalyze the synthesis of chemicals that are problematic to access using traditional chemical synthesis. Biocatalysis is also the centerpiece of new routes being elaborated to larger-volume chemicals based on integration of chemical and microbial synthesis. For these syntheses, renewable feedstocks derived from CO2 replace nonrenewable fossil fuel feedstocks, and nontoxic carbohydrate starting materials supplant use of carcinogenic benzene.

Biosynthetic research is directed towards the delineation of enzymes and chemical intermediates involved in nature’s assembly of pharmaceutically important natural products. Chemical and chemoenzymatic synthesis of putative intermediates in biosynthetic pathways are central to these efforts. Molecules are also being synthesized and evaluated for their interaction with enzymes in medicinally important biosynthetic pathways. These interactions offer insights into enzyme mechanism and could potentially lead to new chemotherapeautic agents.

Contact Information

Michigan State University

Department of Chemistry

East Lansing, MI 48824



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