Ben Swarts
Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Chemical Biology, Organic Synthesis, Glycoscience, Mycobacteria
Biosciences 4111
989-774-2525


Ben completed his undergraduate degree in Chemistry from the College of Wooster (Wooster, OH) in 2004 and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) in 2010 under the supervision of Zhongwu Guo. He studied as a Center for Emerging Diseases and American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Berkeley with Carolyn Bertozzi until 2013, after which he joined the faculty at Central Michigan University.

Ben has received several honors and awards, including:

  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2017–2022) 
  • Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2017–2022) 
  • CMU College of Science & Engineering Outstanding Researcher Award (2017) 
  • International Carbohydrate Organization Young Researcher Award (2016)
  • CMU Provost’s Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity (2016)
  • Research Corporation Cottrell College Scholar Award (2014–2017)
  • American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship (UC Berkeley, 2011–2013)
  • Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases (CEND) Frameworks for Global Health Postdoctoral Fellowship (UC Berkeley, 2010–2011)
  • James C. French Graduate Scholarship in Organic Chemistry (Wayne State, 2009)
  • Graduate School Citation for Excellence in Teaching (Wayne State, 2009)
  • Departmental Citation for Excellence in Teaching (Wayne State, 2008)
  • CASE Chemistry Scholar (Case Western Reserve university, 2004–2005)
  • American Chemical Society Senior Award, Wooster Section (2004)
  • Sisodia-Williams Prize in Biochemistry (College of Wooster, 2004)
  • Lewis L. LaShell Memorial Scholarship in Chemistry (College of Wooster, 2004)
  • Robert E. Wilson Award in Chemistry (College of Wooster, 2004)
  • Dow Chemical Company Foundation Scholarship (College of Wooster, 2000–2004) 

Education

  • 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

Overview

Bacterial pathogens possess cell envelopes rich in glycoconjugates that are both essential for bacterial survival and absent from the human host, making them attractive targets for diagnostic and therapeutic development. We focus on mycobacteria and related genera, which include the pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other important species. In an effort to develop new tools for basic and applied mycobacteria research, we mainly focus on the cell envelope's distinctive outer membrane (the mycomembrane), which has numerous carbohydrate- and lipid-based targets for these purposes. Targeting such molecules for biological inquiry and therapeutic intervention is very challenging using traditional genetic techniques, but chemical approaches offer a powerful alternative. We use synthetic chemistry as an enabling tool to develop new chemical approaches to studying and targeting mycomembrane components in mycobacteria.

Research Projects

Our lab has several project areas that are being actively pursued: (1) chemical and chemoenzymatic synthesis of bacterial carbohydrates and their analogues; (2) chemical reporter strategies for modifying and probing cell envelope components in intact bacterial cells; (3) use of chemical tools to study cell envelope subproteomes in mycobacteria; (4) synthesis and evaluation of carbohydrate-based inhibitors of essential cell envelope synthesis pathways in mycobacteria. Our long-term goal is to gain a better understanding of cell envelope composition, dynamics, and function, with a particular focus on the mycomembrane. In addition, it is our hope that some of the tools developed in our lab will have be valuable for tuberculosis drug and diagnostic development.

Publications

For a complete list of publications, please visit the Swarts Lab website.

  • J. M. Wolber, B. L. Urbanek, L. M. Meints, B. F. Piligian, I. C. Lopez-Casillas, K. M. Zochowski, P. J. Woodruff, and B. M. Swarts*. The Trehalose-Specific Transporter LpqY-SugABC is Required for Antimicrobial and Anti-Biofilm Activity of Trehalose Analogues in Mycobacterium smegmatis, Carbohydr. Res. 2017, 450, 60–66. 
  • M. K. O'Neill,‡ B. F. Piligian,‡ C. D. Olson, P. J. Woodruff, and B. M. Swarts*. Tailoring Trehalose for Biomedical and Biotechnological Applications. Pure Appl. Chem., 2017, DOI: 10.1515/pac-2016-1025. ‡Equal contribution.
  • H. W. Kavunja, B. F. Piligian, T. J. Fiolek, H. N. Foley, T. O. Nathan, B. M. Swarts*. A Chemical Reporter Strategy for Detecting and Identifying O-Mycoloylated Proteins in Corynebacterium, Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 13795–13798.
  • S. R. Rundell,‡ Z. L. Wagar,‡ L. M. Meints, C. D. Olson, M. K. O'Neill, B. F. Piligian, A. W. Poston, R. J. Hood, P. J. Woodruff, and B. M. Swarts*. Deoxyfluoro-D-trehalose (FDTre) analogues as potential PET probes for imaging mycobacterial infection, Org. Biomol. Chem., 2016, 14, 8598–8609. ‡Equal contribution.
  • 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. Edit, 2016, 55, 2053–2057. ‡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. Commun., 2015, 51, 17600–17603. ‡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. 
  • 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. ‡Equal contribution.
  • 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.
  • X. Guo, Q. Wang, B. M. Swarts, and Z. Guo*. Sortase-Catalyzed Peptide-Glycosylphosphatidylinositol Analog Ligation, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2009, 131, 9878-9879.