Department of Chemistry (Natural Products Drug Discovery via High-throughput Screening)
Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (Chemical Biology - High-Throughput Screening)
Joined SFU in July 2015
Dr. Linington’s research program applies marine microbiology, natural products isolation and structure determination, bioassay design and development, synthetic medicinal chemistry, and 'omics' techniques to tackle biomedical problems. His group develops high-content approaches to natural products discovery that use modern methods in image-based screening and high resolution mass spectrometry to create powerful tools for the functional annotation of natural products libraries. His strategy integrates high-throughput chemical and biological annotation of the libraries to predict biological functions of compounds early in the discovery process. His ultimate goal is to discover novel natural products that possess bioactivity against targets in disease areas such as infectious disease and cancer.
How did you end up in natural products research?
During my Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia I took a class offered by Ray Andersen, a preeminent natural products chemist, on NMR spectroscopy and organic structure determination. That course brought together all of the pieces of chemistry that I found so attractive as a high school student because it was beautifully methodical. When you finish your analysis there really is only one correct solution and while you can look at your data set from many perspectives, it still complies with that solution. I like that sort of science; it has a Lego-type of modularity. I could see how these methods could be applied to medicine and environmental problems, which seemed like the perfect intersect for me.
Of all the possible applications of your natural product discoveries, which one motivates you the most?
I really want our group to make a substantive contribution to human health through antibiotic development. There is a pressing need for new classes of antibiotics but they are extremely difficult to find. The rate of rediscovery in antibiotics research is >99.5%, so finding new ones isn’t easy. They are out there, but you have to be much smarter about it to find them.
How do you plan to find new antibiotics?
Our lab works on microbial natural products. One of the things we learned recently is that the capacity to produce natural products is not evenly distributed in the microbial world. If you look at the DNA sequence of an organism and their capacity to make natural products you find that many organisms cannot make much beyond the regular sugars; the way they survive isn't by defense, rather it's about rapid replication.
In the taxonomic tree there are hotspots of hyper-productivity of natural products. The question then becomes how do you develop tools and methods to selectively isolate one genus from a soil or marine sample that contains a billion cells per gram and thousands of genera? How do you sort the producers from the non-producers?
We are developing methods of using genomic information to look at how organisms survive in their environment, to determine whether there are survival tactics that are unique to the organisms we are seeking. It's undeniable that the genomic revolution has touched a huge swath of biological and physical sciences, right down to collection strategies.