David W. Christianson is the Roy and Diana Vagelos Professor in Chemistry and Chemical Biology at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). His research focuses on the structural and chemical biology of metal-requiring enzymes in human disease and biosynthetic enzymes that generate complex terpenoid natural products.
Christianson is working to develop “blueprints” to guide the protein engineering of terpenoid cyclases. These enzymes catalyze the first steps in the biosynthesis of more than 70,000 natural products, including the blockbuster cancer chemotherapy drug Taxol as well as simpler terpenoids used in jet fuel and biodiesel. Engineered terpenoid cyclases can be used in synthetic-biology approaches for the large-scale generation of health- and energy-relevant terpenoids.
Christianson earned AB, AM, and PhD degrees from Harvard University, where he also served as resident tutor in chemistry at Mather House. He began his independent faculty position at Penn in 1988. Highlights of his academic career include a grant from the Searle Scholars Program, an award from the Young Investigator Program at the Office of Naval Research, a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Repligen Award in Chemistry of Biological Processes from the American Chemical Society.