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Benjamin Swarts

​​​Assistant Professor
Biosciences 4111
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Bertozzi Group, University of California, Berkeley, 2010-2013
  • Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Guo Group, Wayne State University, 2010
  • B.A., Chemistry, College of Wooster, 2004
Research Interests
Bacterial pathogens possess cell walls rich in exotic and essential glycoconjugates that are both structurally distinct and absent from the human host. These features make bacterial glycoconjugates attractive potential drug targets and disease biomarkers. Additionally, glycoconjugates serve as key participants in host-pathogen interactions that drive disease progression. Our lab's research will focus on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the etiologic agent of tuberculosis, which infects 2 billion people and is responsible for 2 million deaths a year. In an effort to develop new antibiotic, diagnostic, and proteomics tools for M. tuberculosis, we will focus on the unique and complex mycobacterial cell wall, which has numerous potential targets for these purposes. Targeting glycoconjugates for biological inquiry and therapeutic intervention is very challenging using traditional genetic and biochemical methods, but chemical approaches offer a powerful alternative. Thus, the overarching theme of our lab will be to develop chemical tools that facilitate the study of bacterial cell-wall glycoconjugates. Representative project areas include: 

  • New methods for chemical/chemoenzymatic synthesis of modified carbohydrates
  • Chemical reporters for probing glycoconjugates in live mycobacterial cells
  • Synthetic tools for dissecting the glycan-mediated host-pathogen interactions of 
    M. tuberculosis
Our lab's work will be at the interface of chemistry and biology; while our primary focus and enabling tool will be organic synthesis, techniques from biochemistry, microbiology, and proteomics will also be used. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of this work will encourage students to creatively and critically investigate biomedical research topics of global importance.
Teaching Areas
Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry
Selected Publications
  • H. N. Foley, J. A. Stewart, S. R. Rundell, Herbert Kavunja, and B. M. Swarts*. Bioorthogonal Chemical Reporters for Selective Probing of Mycomembrane Components in Mycobacteria, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2016, 55, 2053–2057. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201509216R1. Equal contribution.
  • J. A. Stewart, B. F. Piligian, S. R. Rundell, and B. M. Swarts*. A Trifunctional Cyclooctyne for Modifying Azide-Labeled Biomolecules with Photocrosslinking and Affinity Tags, Chem. Comm., 2015, 51, 17600–17603. DOI: 10.1039/C5CC07536J. Equal contribution.
  • M. S. Siegrist, B. M. Swarts, D. M. Fox, C. R. Bertozzi*. Illumination of Growth, Division and Secretion by Metabolic Labeling of the Bacterial Cell Surface, FEMS Microbiol. Rev., 2015, 39, 184–202. DOI: 10.1093/femsre/fuu012.
  • B. L. Urbanek, D. C. Wing, K. S. Haislop, C. Hamel, R. Kalscheuer, P. Woodruff, and B. M. Swarts*. Chemoenzymatic Synthesis of Trehalose Analogues: Rapid Access to Chemical Probes for Investigating Mycobacteria, ChemBioChem, 2014, 15, 2066–2070. DOI: 10.1002/cbic.201402288. Equal contribution.
  • J. A. Stewart, C. J. Wilson, and B. M. Swarts*. Effect of Azide Position on the Rate of Azido Glucose–Cyclooctyne Cycloaddition, J. Carbohydr. Chem., 2014, 33, 408–419. DOI:10.1080/07328303.2014.931963.
  • B.M. Swarts, C.M. Holsclaw, J.C. Jewett, M. Alber, D.M. Fox, M.S. Siegrist, J.A. Leary, R. Kalscheuer, C.R. Bertozzi. Probing the Mycobacterial Trehalome with Bioorthogonal Chemistry, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2012, 134, 16123-16126.
  • B.M. Swarts and Z. Guo. Chemical Synthesis and Functionalization of Clickable Glycosylphosphatidylinositol Anchors, Chem. Sci., 2011, 2, 2342-2352.
  • B.M. Swarts and Z. Guo. Synthesis of Glycosylphosphatidylinositol Anchors Bearing Unsaturated Lipid Chains, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2010, 132, 6648-6650.