Benjamin Philmus

Assistant Professor

Office: 541-737-9396

Weniger Hall

Weniger Hall 431

103 SW Memorial Place

103 SW Memorial Place
Corvallis, OR 97331
Postdoctoral researcher, Texas A&M University (Advisor: Tadhg Begley), 2009-2013 Ph.D., University of Hawaii (Advisor: Thomas Hemscheidt), 2002-2009 B.S. in Marine biology, Southampton College/Long Island University, 1996-1999

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Affiliated with: 
Pharmacy Professnl Instr
Faculty Type: 
Pharmaceutical Sciences
Research/Career Interests: 

Natural products and natural products derivatives have been used for their bioactivity for the treatment of a variety of diseases for most of human history and have found use recently as probes for diverse cellular processes. Our research focuses on the discovery of novel natural products for the treatment of bacterial infections. With the increase in prevalence of drug resistant strains of microorganisms and multi-drug resistant strains the need for new treatments is increasing. We are attempting to discover novel natural products that target previously overlooked pathways. One pathway we are interested in targeting is the trans-translation pathway found in bacteria. trans-Translation is used by bacteria to release ribosomes that have stalled on mRNA during translation (conversion of mRNA to protein) and are therefore unproductive and deleterious to the growth of the organism. Interestingly trans-translation is not an essential process in all bacteria. In some infectious organisms, for example Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Helicobacter pylori, it is possible to create a mutant strain defective in this process which under laboratory conditions does not show large growth defects. However infection models have discovered that these mutants are unable to infect their hosts efficiently meaning that this pathway could be used as a novel treatment. We are currently building and screening libraries of compounds to test for activity against this pathway which will allow us to possibly develop drugs to help treat infections from bacteria and to investigate the mode of action by which it works. We are also interested in understanding the biosynthesis of natural products especially those that have unique structural elements. Understanding the biosynthesis can lead to the development of novel variants with an altered bioactivity as well as an understanding of how nature performs interesting chemistry. We investigate the biosynthesis of natural products by identifying and cloning the gene clusters that encode the instructions for the production of the natural product and then propose a biosynthetic pathway from simple biologically available starting materials to the final structure. Using this proposed pathway as a guide we then investigate the interesting steps using in vitro assays (in a test tube) to validate our model. We are interested in thioamide formation as these bonds are isosteres of amide bonds (found in peptides and proteins) but are more stable. Thioamides have use in peptide therapeutics due to their increased stability. Unfortunately the chemical synthesis of thioamides involves harsh chemicals and conditions but nature most likely uses gentler, greener conditions (aqueous solution, pH 7) to perform the same reaction. Therefore if we can harness the power of enzymes we will be able to learn how to generate thioamides under gentler, more environmentally friendly conditions. Our lab uses a multitude of techniques during our research including bacterial culture and fermentation, assay development and high throughput screening, molecular biology, bacterial genetics, spectroscopy (NMR, UV-vis, IR, and fluorescence), mass spectrometry and chromatography (HPLC).


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