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Babak Borhan

Synthetic and Bioorganic Chemistry

Babak Borhan Babak Borhan


527 CEM


Director of Admissions for the Graduate Program

Research webpage

Research Area

Organic (Or)

Area(s) of Interest

Biological (Bi)


(Research Description PDF)

The research interests of our lab can be subdivided into the three main areas of Bioorganic Chemistry, Synthetic Chemistry, and Organic Spectroscopy.

Our Bioorganic Chemistry  efforts are geared towards elucidation of the interaction of bioactive compounds with receptors and proteins. We rely heavily on de novo protein design and mimicry of natural systems to better understand how certain biological processes occur. As an example, we have initiated research into designing protein mimics of rhodopsin, the protein responsible for vision, which can bind retinal as a protonated Schiff base [PSB] (same binding mode as in rhodopsin). These protein mimics are used to investigate the wavelength regulation mechanism that enables color vision. Currently we are exploring the potential to use our engineered proteins as colorimetric and fluorescent proteins for cellular tagging and intracellular pH sensors.

Our Synthetic Chemistry program is generally focused on the development of new reactions that utilize simple organic molecules and through designed manipulations lead to more complex systems. In most cases, our methodologies lead to the production of heterocycles with regio- and stereocontrol. These transformations are then highlighted in total syntheses of natural products that exhibit interesting biological activities. Recently we have reported the catalytic asymmetric chlorolactonization of alkenoic acids and unsaturated amides to furnish chiral heterocycles. These reactions are catalyzed by (DHQD)2PHAL in combination with various N-chlorinated hydantoins as the terminal chlorenium sources. Halofunctionalization of different compounds, understanding the mechanism of these transformations and the details of enantioselections are currently under investigation.

In the area of Organic Spectroscopy, we are interested in developing host/guest systems that can be used in the absolute stereochemical determination of chiral compounds. We accomplish this through the design and synthesis of chromophoric receptors, which upon binding with the chiral compound function as reporters of chirality. We rely heavily on Circular Dichroism (CD) as the tool for observing the host/guest interactions between the chiral compounds and the receptors. In particular, we will take advantage of the excitonic coupling between independently conjugated chromo­­phores that make up the receptors to establish non-empirical guidelines for the absolute stereochemical determination of asymmetric centers.

Selected Publications

Mimicking Microbial Rhodopsin Isomerization in a Single Crystal, Ghanbarpour, A.; Nairat, M.; Nosrati, M.; Santos, E. M.; Vasileiou, C.; Dantus, M.; Borhan, B.; Geiger, J. H., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141(4), 1735-1741.

Cu-Catalyzed Oxidation of C2 and C3 Alkyl-Substituted Indole via Acyl Nitroso Reagents, Zhang, J.; Torabi Kohlbouni, S.; Borhan, B., Org. Lett. 2019, 21(1), 14-17.

A Near-Infrared Photoswitchable Protein- Fluorophore Tag for No-Wash Live Cell Imaging, Sheng, W.; Nick, S. T.; Santos, E. M.; Ding, X.; Zhang, J.; Vasileiou, C.; Geiger, J. H.; Borhan, B., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 2018, 57, 14742-14746.

Absolute and relative facial selectivities in organocatalytic asymmetric chlorocyclization reactions, Marzijarani Salehi, N.; Yousefi, R.; Jaganathan, A.; Ashtekar, K. D.; Jackson, J. E.; Borhan, B., Chem. Sci. 2018, 9, 2898-2908.

Highly Regio- and Enantioselective Vicinal Dihalogenation of Allyl Amides, Soltanzadeh, B.; Jaganathan, A.; Yi, Y.; Yi, H.; Staples, R. J.; Borhan, B., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139(6), 2132-2135.

Absolute Stereochemical Determination of Asymmetric Sulfoxides via Central to Axial Induction of Chirality, Gholami, H.; Zhang, J.; Anyika, M.; Borhan, B., Org. Let. 2017, 19, 1722-1725.

Nucleophile-Assisted Alkene Activation: Olefins Alone are Often Incompetent, Ashtekar, K.D.; Vetticatt, M.; Yousefi, R.; Jackson, J. E.; Borhan, B., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016, 138(26), 8114-8119.

Sensing Remote Chirality: Stereochemical Determination of beta-, gamma-, and delta-Chiral Carboxylic Acids, Tanasova, M.; Anyika, M.; Borhan, B., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 2015, 54, 4274-4278.

Tuning the Electronic Absorption of Protein-Embedded All-trans-Retinal, Wang, W.; Nossoni, Z.; Berbasova, T.; Watson, C. T.; Yapici, I.; Lee, K. S. S.; Vasileiou, C.; Geiger, J. H.; Borhan, B., Science 2012, 338, 1340-1343.


B.S., 1988, Univ. of California, Davis

Ph.D., 1995, Univ. of California, Davis

Postdoctoral Fellow, 1995-1998, Columbia Univ.


2017 Outstanding Faculty Award College of Natural Science
2015 Meritorious Faculty Award College of Natual Science
2004 Teacher-Scholar Award Michigan State University (College of Natural Science)
2003 Teacher-Scholar Award College of Natural Science
2002 University Teacher-Scholar Award Michigan State University
2002 Teacher-Scholar Award College of Natural Science
1995 Ph.D. University of California, Davis
1995 - 1998 Postdoctoral Fellow Columbia University
1994 Outstanding Teaching Assistantship Award University of California, Davis
1990 - 1993 Full foreign tuition fellowship University of California, Davis
1989 Bradford Borges Graduate Scholarship
1988 Bachelor of Science University of California, Davis
1987 - 1988 University of California Regents Scholarship University of California, Davis
1985 - 1986 University of California Undergraduate Scholarship University of California, Davis
Member Sigma Xi Honor Society (Michigan State University)