Chemical reactivity
at the biological

complex natural molecule

Elucidating the emergent properties
of natural products

Research in our group is centered in the synthesis and study of complex secondary metabolites, with an emphasis on metabolites that interact with DNA. We use chemical synthesis to enable detailed elucidation of the mode of action of these compounds (ideally, with atomic-level precision).

One of the most exciting aspects of complex secondary metabolites is that they often do not follow first-order principles of chemical structure, bonding, and reactivity. Instead, many of the targets we have made or are pursuing contain a rich, and often unique, profile of chemical reactivity encoded in their structures. Stated another way, secondary metabolites often possess emergent properties that are difficult if not impossible to predict a priori. Elucidating these properties in both abiological and biological contexts advances basic organic chemistry, and our findings can be leveraged to impact adjacent fields, such as chemical synthetic methods, biosynthesis, and therapeutic development.

The concept of emergence is well-known and accepted in biology (e.g., a cell is more than the sum of its organelles), but it has not gained the same level of traction in chemistry. We ultimately seek to formalize the study of emergence in complex secondary metabolites, with the ultimate goal of connecting the modular, evolved chemical reactivity within a metabolite structure with cellular phenotype.

A detailed discussion of emergence in chemistry can be found here.

A discussion framed in the context of our own work can be found here

Heron laboratory logo

Selected Publications:

current members

Brandon Alexander, Ph.D. Student

Brandon Alexander

B.S. Biochemistry, 2017, M.S. Chemistry, 2018, University of Michigan

Zechun Wang, Ph.D. Student

Zechun Wang

B.S. Chemistry, 2020,
Peking University

Zhi (Zikki) Xu, Ph.D. Student

Zikki Xu

B.S. Chemical Biology, 2019, Peking University

Noah Bartfield, Ph.D. Student

Noah Bartfield

B.S. Biochemistry, 2021,
Florida State University

Mikaela DiBello, Ph.D. Student

Mikaela DiBello

B.S. Chemistry, 2019, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Yougant Airan, Postdoctoral

Yougant Airan

Ph.D., 2021, Indian Institute of Science (IISc)

Alexandria Palazzo

Alexandria Palazzo

B.S. Chemistry, 2022, Florida State University

Vaani Gupta

Vaani Gupta

B.A. Chemistry & Neuroscience, 2022, Grinnell College

Ian Tibbals, Ph.D. Student

B.S. Chemistry, 2023, University of Notre Dame

Zhanhao Liang, Postdoctoral

Ph.D., 2022, North Carolina State University

Jarvis Hill, Postdoctoral

Ph.D., 2024, University of Georgia

past Members

Ph.D. Graduates

Christina Woo, 2013
Assoc. Prof. of Chemistry, Harvard

Nicholas Calandra, 2013
H3 Biomedicine

Sandra King, 2014
Agios Pharmaceuticals

Maung Kyaw Moe Tun, 2014
University Administrator, Burma

Roman Kats-Kagan, 2015
TCI Chemicals

Miho Kaneko, 2015
Goodwin Law (Patent Law)

Mingzhuo Zeng, 2017

Herman Nikolayevskiy, 2017
Asst. Prof. of Chemistry, Univ. of San Francisco

Xiaoshen Ma, 2018

Christos Economou, 2019

Mengzhao Xue, 2019
Postdoctoral Fellow, Brady Laboratory, The Rockefeller University

Ryan Holmes, 2020
Prelude Therapeutics

John Rose, 2020
Prelude Therapeutics

Martin Tomanik, 2021
Asst. Prof. of Chemistry, NYU

Kevin Hoang, 2022

Olivia Goethe, 2022

Kingson Lin, 2022
Yale MD/PhD Program

Kevin Wernke, 2022
Asst. Prof of Chemistry, Colorado Mesa University

Joshua Combs, 2022
Postdoctoral Fellow, Shokat Laboratory, UCSF

Ian Hsu, 2022

Maddie Frischling, 2023
Treeline Biosciences


P.C. Ravikumar, 2008-2009
Associate Professor of Chemical Sciences, NISER Bhubaneswar

Seann Mulcahy, 2009-2010
Associate Professor of Chemistry, Providence College

Liang Lu, 2009-2011
Medicinal Chemist, Prelude Therapeutics Incorporated

Kaveri Balan Urkalan, 2011-2012
Senior Scientist, Loxo Oncology at Lilly

Le Li, 2010-2013
Senior Research & Technology Chemist, Albemarie Co

Shivajirao Gholap, 2008-2014
Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

Matthew Burk, 2012-2014
Director of Chemistry, Nalas Engineering Services

Laureen Colis, 2013-2014
Molecular Assay & Sample Management Lead, Spark Therapeutics, Inc.

Zhenwu Li, 2011-2015
Associate Director of Discovery Chemistry, Proteovant Therapeutics

Brendan Parr, 2014-2015
Principal Scientist II, Schrödinger

Stephen Murphy, 2015-2017
Senior Scientist of Medicinal Chemistry, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Seewon Joung, 2016-2017
Associate Professor, Inha University

Michail Tsakos, 2016-2017
Research & Development Scientist, Pharmathen

Alan Healy, 2015-2018
Assistant Professor of Chemistry, New York University, Abu Dhabi

Subham Mahapatra, 2015-2018
Principal Scientist of Medicinal Chemistry, Pfizer

Hester Dang, 2016-2018
Chemical Process Development, Bristol Myers Squibb

Chao Wang, 2017-2019
Scientist of Medicinal Chemistry, Turning Point Therapeutics

Nicholas Lees, 2018-2019
Senior Scientist in Process Chemistry, Pharmaron

Haruka Fujino, 2019-2020
Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, The University of Tokyo

Xin Li, 2019-2021
Research Investigator, Incyte Corporation

Alina Tirla, 2019-2021
Senior Scientist in Chemical Development, Illumina

Yassin Elbatrawi, 2021-2023

Timothy Wright, 2020-2022
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto

Lei Chen, 2022-2023
Director, Nanjing Gritpharma Co.

Eric Huseman, 2021-2023
Assistant Professor, Marquette University

Anna Lo, 2022-2023
Senior Scientist, AstraZeneca

Bo Qin, 2022-2023
Postdoctoral Fellow, New York University

principal investigator

Milton Harris ’29 PhD Professor of Chemistry, Yale University
Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutic Radiology,
Yale School of Medicine
Member Yale Cancer Center
Co-Founder, Modifi Biosciences

how to Contact us

Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building
275 Prospect St., New Haven, CT


All Publications

Seth Herzon