Anne Osbourn

Born in: United Kingdom
Primary research category: Plant biology, biochemistry, synthetic biology
Research location / employer: John Innes Centre, Norwich, United Kingdom
Fellowship dates: 2005-2010

Academic Career

  • Professor, University of East Anglia, UK, 2006- Present
  • Group Leader, Department of Metabolic Biology, John Innes Centre, UK, 2005-Present
  • Director, Norwich Research Park Industrial Biotechnology Alliance, 2013-2019
  • Associate Research Director, John Innes Centre, UK, 2008-2013
  • Graduate Certificate in Organization Development, University of Sussex, UK, 2014
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Continuing Professional Development (Poetry), University of East Anglia, UK, 2010
  • Head, Department of Metabolic Biology, John Innes Centre, UK, 2006-2008
  • Visiting Fellow, School of Literature and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, UK, 2004-2005
  • Group Leader, Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK, 1999-2005


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK, 1987-1999
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, John Innes Centre, UK, 1985-1987
  • PhD, Genetics, University of Birmingham, UK, 1982-1985
  • BSc, Botany, University of Durham, UK, 1979-1982

Fellowship Research

Professor Anne Osbourn’s research is focused on plant natural products – biosynthesis, function, mechanisms of metabolic diversification, and metabolic engineering. An important advance from the Osbourn laboratory has been the discovery that in plant genomes the genes needed to make particular plant natural products are often organized in clusters like ‘beads on a string’, a finding that has greatly accelerated the ability to find new pathways and chemistries of potential importance for the development of drugs and other useful compounds. Professor Osbourn has established a synthetic biology platform that provides rapid access to previously inaccessible natural products and analogs at gram scale. Together these two step changes open up new routes to combine genomics and synthetic biology to synthesize and access previously inaccessible natural products and analogs for medicinal, agricultural and industrial applications.

Professor Osbourn is committed to making science and scientific exchange accessible to all through innovating at the interface between science and the arts. She is the founder and director of the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) Trust, an international charity that promotes innovation in science communication. She is also a poet, and her prize-winning book of poetry ‘Mock Orange’ was published in September 2020 by SPM Publications.

Major Contributions

  • Demonstrated that pre-formed specialized metabolites produced by plants as part of their normal programme of growth can protect against disease, a finding that has had major impact for understanding of molecular plant-microbe interactions.
  • Discovered that gene clusters for natural product pathways are widespread in plant genomes, revealing the remarkable plasticity of plant genomes and opening up unprecedented opportunities for genome mining for new pathways and chemistries.
  • Founded and directs the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) Trust, an international charity that promotes innovation in science communication. A recent success of the Trust has been the uptake of this cross-disciplinary educational programme in China. Working with educational bureaus and schools in China, the SAW Trust has built an extensive educational programme for schools there. Over 1,000 children have now taken part in SAW projects in schools in China and the hub school in Shanghai (Wunan Kindergarten) has a purpose-built SAW classroom.

Major Awards

  • Honorary Professor, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2021
  • Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), 2020
  • Fellow of the Royal Society, 2019
  • Fellow of the Linnean Society, 2018
  • National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) Dream Time Fellowship, 2004
  • Medal of the University of Helsinki, 2003