Current Members

Admin | Staff | PostDocs | Grad Students

Nan Holda

600 S. Mathews Ave
161 Roger Adams Laboratory, Box 49-5, MC-712
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: 217-244-5450
Email: holda[at]


Deb Berthold

  • B.S. & B.A.: Michigan State University
  • Ph.D.: Duke University
  • berthold[at]
  • Originally from Ohio, Deb received her B.S. and B.A. from Michigan State University, and her Ph.D. from Duke University in North Carolina. She worked at UC-Berkeley, Australian National University, Stockholm University, and UCLA before coming to the University of Illinois in 2005. She has studied several membrane-bound redox enzymes of photosynthetic and respiratory electron transfer, her favorite of which is the non-heme diiron terminal oxidase of plant mitochondria known as the alternative oxidase. For more than a decade, Deb has produced sizeable quantities of isotopically-labeled membrane and soluble protein in a cost-effective manner for structural studies by solid state NMR. She is now applying her skill with protein expression in E. coli to RiPPs and their biosynthetic gene clusters.


Richard S. Ayikpoe

  • B.S. 2012: University of Ghana
  • Ph.D. 2019: University of Denver
  • rayikpoe[at]
  • Richard received a B.S. degree in biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology from the University of Ghana. Afterwards, he worked as senior technical officer at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-Ghana) for 3 years before going to grad school. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Denver under the guidance of Prof. John A. Latham, where he investigated the biosynthesis, structure, and function of mycofactocin—a RiPP-derived redox cofactor that was discovered in the last 20 years. In the van der Donk lab, Richard investigates the biosynthesis of novel RiPP natural products from Phomopsis leptostromiformis and Lachnospiraceae bacterium.

Constantin Giurgiu

  • B.S. 2015: University of Oxford
  • MChem 2016: University of Oxford
  • Ph.D. 2021: Harvard University
  • cgiurgiu[at]
  • Constantin Giurgiu graduated with an MS in chemistry from the University of Oxford in 2015. He then did a Ph.D. with Jack W. Szostak at Harvard University, working on “Non-enzymatic RNA replication.” In the van der Donk lab, he is working on elucidating the mode of action of bacterial cytolysin.

Hyunji Lee

  • B.S. 2010: Yeungnam University
  • M.S. 2012: Seoul National University
  • Ph.D. 2020: Duke University
  • hlee5457[at]
  • Hyunji received a B.S. degree in pharmacy at Yeungnam University in South Korea. After earning her M.S. degree in medicinal chemistry at Seoul National University, she began her Ph.D. study at Duke University under the guidance of Prof. Jiyong Hong where her doctoral research focused on the synthesis of a natural product and natural-product-like compounds with macrocyclic scaffolds. In the van der Donk lab, she is investigating the mechanism of a peptide aminoacyl-tRNA ligase.

 Class of 2016

Page Daniels

  • B.S. 2016, DePauw University, Greencastle, IN
  • pnd2[at]
  • Page grew up in a small farming community in rural Indiana. After receiving a full tuition academic scholarship, she attended DePauw University where she pursued and graduated with a degree in Biochemistry and minor in Biology. While at DePauw University, she performed research under Dr. Daniel Scott, working to synthetically modify the antibiotic compound mithramycin to functionalize its DNA binding properties and enhance its anticancer profile. Upon graduation, she moved to Urbana-Champaign to pursue a Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Illinois. She joined Dr. Wilfred van der Donk’s lab in 2017 and is studying sLanB’s.

Max Simon

  • B.S. 2015, University at Buffalo, SUNY
  • msimon10[at]
  • Max grew up in Oceanside, NY. He received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University at Buffalo, SUNY in 2016. As an undergrad he worked in the laboratory of Prof. Blaine Pfeifer on erythromycin production and optimization in a heterologous host system, as well as producing erythromycin analogues. After graduation he moved to Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in the van der Donk group as a bioengineer. He is currently working on elucidating the fosfomycin pathway in Pseudomonas.
 Class of 2017

Chunyu “Layla” Wu

  • B.S. 2017, Purdue University
  • chunyuw2[at]
  • Layla grew up in Shanghai, China and received a B.S. in Chemistry and Biological Sciences from Purdue University, where she worked under Prof. Knipp, studying molecular and functional characterization of oligopeptide transporters in human blood brain barrier cells. Currently, she is working on understanding the mode of action of sublancin 168 and epilancin 15x.

Tung Thanh Le

  • B.S. 2017, Texas Christian University
  • tungl2[at]
  • Born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam, Tung received a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Texas Christian University in 2017. He worked with Professor Eric E. Simanek to synthesize a library of triazine derivatives with sertraline to look for antibacterial activity. He also did some computational chemistry with Professor Benjamin Janesko to investigate mechanism of whiskey lactone formation. Currently, he works on the Yeast Surface Display project.


Class of 2018

Emily Desormeaux

  • B.S. 2017, Texas A&M University
  • emilykd2[at]
  • Emily grew up in Bryan, Texas. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from Texas A&M University, where she performed kinetic studies on phosphotriesterase under the guidance of Prof. Frank Raushel. In 2018, Emily joined the van der Donk lab to study the mechanism of ProcM and its engineering potentials.

Sara Eslami

  • B.A. 2017, Wellesley College
  • seslami2[at]
  • Sara grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin and received her B.A. in Biochemistry at Wellesley College in Boston. While in Boston, her research ranged from synthesizing an inverse agonist of GLP-1R to exploring the interactions between commensals and pathobionts in the nasal microbiota. Her research in the van der Donk lab focuses on genome mining for RiPPs in gram-negative bacteria as well as studying small LanB’s.

Haoqian “Lainey” Liang

  • B.S. 2017, Zhengzhou University, China
  • haoqian2[at]
  • Lainey grew up in Shenzhen, China and majored in Pharmacy at Zhengzhou University, where she studied organic synthesis under Prof. Chunli Wu. She finished her bachelor’s thesis on cancer biology at Baylor College of Medicine under the supervision of Prof. Jianhua Yang. After receiving her degree, she studied immunology at Tongji University. Lainey joined the van der Donk lab to explore phage display.

Rachel Martini

  • B.S. 2018, University of Michigan
  • rachelm7[at]
  • Rachel grew up in Midland, MI and received a B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Michigan. She is currently working on the mechanism of thiazole methyl transferase and S-linked glycosylation.

Dinh Nguyen

  • B.S. 2018, University of Tokyo
  • dinhtn2[at]
  • Dinh was born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam. He received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from The University of Tokyo in 2018. His bachelor thesis work was carried out under the supervision of Professor Hiroaki Suga and Associate Professor Yuki Goto. Here he put his effort in the genomic discovery and characterization of novel prenyltransferases modifying RiPPs. Currently, Dinh is being co-advised by Prof. van der Donk and Prof. Mitchell, working on enzymatic modification facilitating peptides with exotic structures.

Raymond Sarksian

  • B.S. 2017, UC San Diego
  • raymond9[at]
  • Raymond was born in Uppsala, Sweden and raised in Los Angeles, California. He received his B.S. in Biochemistry from UC San Diego and worked under the direction of Professor Charles Perrin, studying the effects of steric hindrance to ionic solvation of cyclohexanol derivatives. He moved across country and joined the van der Donk lab in the Fall of 2018 to study mechanistic aspects of ProcM.
Class of 2019

Autumn Frerk

  • B.S. 2019: Purdue University
  • frerk2[at]
  • Autumn grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from Purdue University, where she worked in Professor Betsy Parkinson’s lab studying cyclic non-ribosomal peptides to discover bioactive natural products. In 2019, she joined the van der Donk lab to work on genome mining for RiPPs.

Yue Yu

  • B.S. 2019: Nanjing University
  • yuey15[at]
  • Yue was born in Suzhou, China, and received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from Nanjing University. He started off studying photoluminescence spectroscopy and later went on to develop the asymmetric functionalization of protein-containing dehydroalanine. In the van der Donk lab, he is investigating novel lantibiotics and the functions of short LanBs.

Tianhui “Hina” Zhou

  • B.S. 2016: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • M.S. 2018: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  • tzhou12[at]
  • Hina grew up in Shenzhen, China. She received her B.S. in Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where she worked for Dr. Eric Oldfield developing anti-microbial and anti-cancer agents. Her M.S. is in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she worked with Dr. Mary O’Riordan studying Listeria monocytogenes metabolism. She currently works on understanding the function of LanCL. Ask about her cat, Spike.
Class of 2020

Alexis Lower

  • B.S. 2019: Ohio State University
  • balower2[at]
  • Alexis grew up in Columbus, Ohio. She received a B.S. in Chemistry and minor in French from the Ohio State University. Alexis’ past research experiences ranged from the use of nanofibers for ultrathin layer chromatography to the biochemical mechanism of bacterial infection. She joined the van der Donk lab in Fall 2020 to study the mode of action of prochlorosins in marine cyanobacteria.

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