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Robert H. Cichewicz

Robert H. Cichewicz

Robert H. Cichewicz

Regents' Professor
INPART Director

Research Areas: Organic
Office: SLSRC 2310

B.S., 1994, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan
M.S., 1999, University of Louisiana, Monroe
Ph.D., 2002, Michigan State University
Postdoc, 2002-2005, University of California, Santa Cruz

Research Keywords: 
natural products, antibiotics; drug discovery; fungi; infectious disease; metabolomics; natural products; translational chemical studies

Plate with fungi growing on it from soil sample

Natural products chemistry is an exciting and diverse field within the chemical sciences that focuses on the identification, function determination, and applications of compounds produced in nature. Our laboratory, the Natural Products Discovery Group (NPDG), specializes in investigating the intriguing biomolecules produced by fungi to understand their natural functions and discover ways these compounds can be translated into new medicines and valuable organic materials. To support these studies, the NPDG has assembled one of the largest natural-product-discovery-focused collections of fungi in academia with roughly 88,000 fungal isolates derived from every major biome in the USA. Extracts selectively enriched for natural products have been prepared from each fungus, enabling the rapid testing of our unique fungal-derived chemistry for uses covering human health and disease, agriculture, novel biomaterials, and more. Some examples of our recent work include the following.

Natural products for the treatment of parasitic diseases.

Since the dawn of humanity, parasites have posed a threat to human health. Research conducted at the NPDG, and in association with collaborating labs, has helped identify biomolecules produced by fungi with applications for the treatment of malaria and trichomoniasis.

Fungal compounds that help control pathogenic bacteria.
Increasing levels of antibiotic resistance is a worrisome problem leaving medical practitioners with limited options to control bacterial infections. Work taking place in the NPDG labs and partnering groups is helping identify new antibiotic material to combat deadly bacterial pathogens. Some of our current work targets hard-to-treat Gram-negative pathogens, as well as antibiotic-resistant strains of sexually transmitted Mycoplasma species.

Antifungal natural products from fungi.
In a bid to out-compete organisms in their local environment, fungi have evolved the means to produce potent chemical weapons that suppress or kill other fungi. Our group is exploiting this intense interkingdom chemical warfare by harnessing the rich assortment of fungus-subduing metabolites. Such compounds are expected to have applications for controlling persistent fungal infections in humans, animals, and plants.

Plate with fungi growing on it from soil sample

Investigating fungal natural product diversity across a continental landscape.
Fungi are one of the most abundant groups of life on the planet, yet only a relatively small number of them (~10%) have been scientifically studied. This means that the vast majority of fungi are unknown to science with perhaps millions of compounds hidden in nature. Using our fungal collection, the NPDG and its scientific collaborators are applying genomics and metabolomics tools to help unravel the mysteries surrounding fungal chemical dark matter. Through these efforts, we anticipate that many new natural products will be identified with a broad range of important uses.

The NPDG works with students and scientists at all stages of professional development. Our lab and training program is dedicated to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sciences. Individuals with backgrounds in the chemical (e.g., organic, analytical, biochemistry, etc.) and biological sciences may be ideally situated for learning the scientific skills of natural products research. Those interested in finding out more should contact the lab director ( for information.

Awards & Honors

Regents' Professorship, 2012, University of Oklahoma