Alison Butler

Distinguished Professor

Contact Phone

(805) 893-8178

Office Location

3670D PSB-N



After graduating from Reed College, Dr. Butler received her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 1982. She was a NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA with Joan Valentine and Caltech with Harry B. Gray before joining the faculty in 1986. She received an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award; is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and a member of the 2012 Class of Fellows of the American Chemical Society.  She has chaired three Gordon Research Conferences: Environmental BioInorganic Chemistry (2006), Metals in Biology (2004) and Marine Natural Products (2002).


Research Group Website:

Current Research 

My research interests are in bioinorganic chemistry, metallobiochemistry and chemical biology, with an emphasis on elucidating roles of metal ions in catalytic activities of metalloenzymes, and discovering molecules and processes by which microbes acquire the transition metals needed to grow. Our research focus is primarily targeted in three research directions. 

1) Discovery of new Siderophores and Biosynthetic Investigations.  We are taking advantage of genomics to predict and discover new siderophores and to investigate their attendant biosynthetic pathways. We use bioinformatics predictions to discover new acylated siderophores and to elucidate biosynthetic pathways of these new siderophores, such as the amphi-enterobactins.  We also use bioinformatics to reveal the molecular tailoring mechanisms that bacteria use to vary the structures of siderophores after their secretion.  Our focus is on bacteria found in diverse environmental niches, as well as bacteria in the mammalian microbiome. 

2) Developing biomimics of naturally occurring wet adhesive systems.  We are exploring adhesive properties of certain catechol siderophores to mica as well as various metal oxide surfaces.  We are also interested in whether bacteria use adhesive properties of these compounds to sample and promote surface colonization.

3) Microbial and bio-mimetic disassembly of lignin.  We are investigating oxidative disassembly approaches of lignin to release aromatic breakout fragments.  Fungal and bacterial microbes employ suites of metalloproteins which often release diffusible oxidants that attack lignin and cellulosic biomass. Some of these enzymes are related to the vanadium bromoperoxidases we have investigated extensively from marine organism.  Our investigations employ both direct studies of the peroxidase enzymes, as well as small metal complexes that are functional biomimics of the enzyme.


Full list available on group website:


Selected Research Publications

Defining the Catechol-Cation Synergy for Enhanced Wet Adhesion to Mineral Surfaces, M.V. Rapp, G.P. Maier, H.A. Dobbs, N.J. Higdon, J.H. Waite, Alison Butler, J.N. Israelachvili, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016,138, 9013–9016.

Adaptive synergy between catechol and lysine promotes wet adhesion by surface salt displacement” by G.P. Maier, M.V. Rapp, J. H. Waite, J.N. Israelachvili, and Alison Butler, Science, 2015, 349, 628-632.

Biosynthesis of amphi-enterobactin siderophores by Vibrio harveyi BAA-1116: Identification of a bifunctional nonribosomal peptide synthetase condensation domain, H.K. Zane, H. Naka, F. Rosconi, M. Sandy,  M.G. Haygood, Alison Butler, J Am Chem Soc., 2014, 136(15),  5615-8.

Amphiphilic siderophore production by oil-associating microbes, M.P. Kem, H.K. Zane, S.D. Springer, J.M. Gauglitz, Alison Butler, Metallomics, 2014, 6(6), 1150-5.

Vanadium Bromoperoxidase-Catalyzed Biosynthesis of Halogenated Marine Natural Products, J. N. Carter-Franklin and Alison Butler, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2004, 126, 15060-15066.

Structure and Dynamics of a New Suite of Amphiphilic Siderophores Produced by a Marine Bacterium, J.S. Martinez, J.N. Carter-Franklin, E.L. Mann, J.D. Martin, M.G. Haygood and Alison Butler, Proc. Nat'l Acad. Sci., USA, 2003, 100, 3754-3759.

Photochemical cycling of iron in the surface ocean mediated by microbial iron(III)-binding ligands, K. Barbeau, E.L. Rue, K.W. Bruland and Alison Butler, Nature, 2001, 413, 409-413.

Self-Assembling Amphiphilic Siderophores from Marine Bacteria, J.S. Martinez, G.P. Zhang, P.D. Holt, H.-T. Jung, C.J. Carrano, M.G. Haygood and Alison Butler, Science, 2000, 287, 1245-1247.

On the ambiguity of NRPS structure predictions: Four bidentate chelating groups in the siderophore pacifibactin. Clifford D. Hardy, Alison Butler, J. Nat’l Products, 2019, In Press. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.8b01073

Amphi-enterobactin commonly produced among Vibrio campbellii and Vibrio harveyi strains can be taken up by a novel outer membrane protein FapA that also can transport canonical Fe(III)-enterobactin. H. Naka, Z. Reitz, A. Jelowicki, A. Butler, M.G. Haygood, J. Biol. Inorg. Chem., 2018, 23, 1009–1022, DOI

β-hydroxyaspartic acid in siderophores: biosynthesis and reactivity, C.D. Hardy, Alison Butler, J. Biol. Inorg. Chem. 2018, 23, 957–967. DOI: 10.1007/s00775-018-1584-2 

Catechol Oxidation: Considerations in the Design of Wet Adhesive Materials, G.P. Maier, C.M. Bernt, Alison Butler, Biomaterials Science, 2018, 6, 332 – 339. DOI: 10.1039/c7bm00884h

Substrate-based differential expression analysis reveals control of biomass-degrading enzymes in Pycnoporus cinnabarinus, J.K. Henske, S.D. Springer, M. O'Malley and Alison Butler, Biochemical Engineering Journal, 2018,130, 83-89.

Biosynthetic Considerations of Triscatechol Siderophores Framed on Serine and Threonine Macrolactone Scaffolds, Z.L. Reitz, M. Sandy and Alison Butler, Metallomics, 2017, 9, 824-839 DOI: 10.1039/c7mt00111h