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Dr J.H. van Maarseveen (1963) has been appointed professor of Bio-Inspired Organic Synthesis at the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Science.

Prof Jan van Maarseveen
Photo: Dirk Gillissen

Jan van Maarseveen is inspired by nature at the molecular level. With his research group, he develops sustainable methods for synthesising biologically relevant molecules. The research is focused on ring-shaped molecules, particularly cyclic peptides. Peptides are small proteins with great structural diversity. Cyclic peptides are common in nature and because of their wide range of biological functions they have great potential for drug research. To create a cyclic molecule, a linear molecule has to undergo a head-to-tail reaction. Many naturally occurring cyclic peptides are not synthetically accessible using existing methods. A cyclisation reaction, whereby a ring of atoms is created, is often complicated by the head and tail not being near each other. Meanwhile, other undesirable reactions can occur, such as head-to-tail reactions between other molecules or the loss of the correct spatial circling of an atom. Another challenge in the research is the synthesis of peptides that are folded in a lasso-like structure. In nature this is tackled by enzymes which bend the cyclisation precursor molecules into just the right shape..

Van Maarseveen hopes to develop catalytic reactions inspired by nature for the synthesis of cyclic peptides, as well as for linking peptide segments and small organic molecules with peptides/proteins. These new methods are important for the sustainable synthesis of peptides with applications in drug research.

Van Maarseveen has worked at the UvA since 1999, and has been a senior university lecturer since 2003. Prior to that he worked in the pharmaceuticals industry. He has received a number of research grants from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). He has also published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Van Maarseveen’s students have voted him best chemistry lecturer and best Life Sciences lecturer at the UvA on several occasions. He was named best UvA lecturer of the year in 2012.