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Richard ROBINS

Elucidation of Biosynthesis by Isotopic Spectrometry Group

Contact details

Professional contact details: CEISAM,CNRS-Univ Nantes UMR UMR6230 Faculty of Sciences and Technology 2 rue de la Houssinière BP 92208 44322 Nantes cedex 03 France

Faculty of Sciences
0251125701 (n° interne : 455701)
Office 2
Building 9 - room 019
Personal Website
Chemistry Department

Research topics

Study of the biological factors and the enzyme mechanisms that cause isotopic fractionation in natural products.

Activities / Resume

Application of bioorganic chemistry to the understanding of the biosynthesis of natural products. My research aims to understand the factors that cause a non-statistical distribution of heavy isotopes in natural products. Studies are centred round the discovery of the fundamental biological parameters that are sensitive to the presence of heavy isotopes, the description of how reaction mechanisms cause isotopic fractionation, the modelling of reaction mechanisms through heavy isotope effects and the prediction of isotope effects based on these models that may have potential industrial applications.

These objectives are approached in several ways, all of which involve the determination of isotope ratios by spectroscopic techniques: quantitative Nuclear Magnetic Resonance for deuterium and carbon-13 and Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry for carbon-13 and nitrogen-15.

Applications and discoveries:

   In the metabolism of fatty acids:

  • The origin of the non-statistical distribution of deuterium along the fatty acid chain.
  • The cause of the observed depletion of deuterium at the odd positions of the double bonds in long-chain fatty acids.
  • That the isotopic content of deuterium in vernolic acid is invariant for the different mechanisms proposed for its biosynthesis.
  • That ricinoleic acid is biosynthesized by the same pathway in plants and fungi (in contrast to previous data in the literature).

   In the affiliation of isotopes during biosynthetic pathways:

  • That the biotransformation of ferulic acid to vanillin is associated with site-specific isotope effects in carbon-13.
  • That the isotopic affiliations in 2H and 13C between glucose and lactic acid or ethanol can be related to the pathway used for fermentation.
  • The origin of the impoverishment in O-Me and N-Me groups.

   In reaction mechanisms:

  • That there is intramolecular isotopic fractionation in carbon-13 during glucose metabolism, for example in glucose to fructose isomerisation.
  • That the isotope effects in nitrogen-15 associated with the demethylation of nicotine and tropine by cytochrome P450 monooxygenases in plants and bacteria can be related to proposed reaction mechanisms.
  • That the isotope fractionation in ferulic acid metabolism to vanillin can be related to a mechanism involving a quinone intermediate.

Recent Publications:

182 Julien M, Nun P, Robins RJ, Remaud GS, Parinet J, Höhener P 2015Insights into mechanistic models for evaporation of organic liquids in the environment obtained by position-specific carbon isotope analysis, Env Sci Technol (in press) (DOI:10 1021/acs est 5b03280) IF2014=5.33

181 Julien M, Nun P, Höhener P, Parinet J, Robins RJ, Remaud GS 2015 Enhanced forensic discrimination of pollutants by position-specific isotope analysis using isotope ratio monitoring by 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry, Talanta 147, 383-389 IF2014=3.51

180 Lecerf-Schmidt, F Haudecoeur, R, Peres, B, Queiroz, MMF, Marcourt,L,Challal, S, Queiroz, EF, Taïwe, GS, Lomberget, T, Le Borgne, M,Wolfender, J-L,De Waard M, Robins, RJ, Boumendjel, A 2015 Biomimetic synthesis of Tramadol, Chem Commun 51, 14451-14453 IF2014=6.83

179 Bayle, K, Grand M, Chaintreau A, Robins RJ, Fieberb W, Sommer H, Akoka S, Remaud GS 2015 Internal referencing for 13C position-specific isotope analysis measured by NMR spectrometry, Anal Chem, 87, 7550-7554 IF2014=5.64

178 Diomande, DG, Martineau, E, Gilbert, A, Nun, P, Murata, A, Yamada,K, Watanabe, N, Tea, I, Robins, RJ, Yoshida, N, Remaud, GS 2015 Position-Specific Isotope Analysis of Xanthines: a 13C Nuclear Magnetic Resonance method to determine the 13C intramolecular composition at natural abundance, Anal Chem, 87 6600-6606 IF2014=5.64

177 Romek, KM, Nun, P, Remaud, GS, Silvestre, V, Taïwe,GS, Schmidt, F-L,Boumendjel, A, De Waard, M, Robins, RJ 2015 A retro-biosynthetic approach to the prediction of biosynthetic pathways from position-specific isotope analysis as shown for tramadol, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 112, 8296-8301 IF2014=9.68

175 Schmidt, H-L, Robins, RJ, Werner, RA 2015 Multi-factorial in vivo stable isotope fractionation: causes, correlations, consequences andapplications, Isotopes Environ Health Stud, 51, 155-199 IF2014=1.29

173 Bayle, K, Akoka, S, Remaud, GS, Robins, RJ 2015 Nonstatistical 13C distribution during carbon transfer from glucose to ethanol during fermentationis determined by the catabolic pathway exploited, J Biol Chem 290, 4118-4128 IF2014=4.57

170 Kosieradzka, K, Le Faouder, P, Molinié, R, Gentil, E, Lebreton, J, Robins,RJ 2014 Tropane alkaloid metabolism by PseudomonasAT3 cell cultures:Interchange between the nortropine and norpseudotropine catabolic pathways, PhytLett 10, 60-68 IF2014=1.85

169 Romek, KM, Julien, M, Frasquet-Darrieux, M, Tea, I, Antheaume, I, Hankard,R, Robins, RJ 2013 Human baby hair amino acid natural-abundance 15N-isotope values are not related to the 15N-isotope values of amino acids in mother'sbreast-milk protein, Amino Acids 45, 1365-1372 IF2013=3.92

168 Boumendjel, A, Taïwe,GS, Bum, EN, Chabrol, T, Beney, C, Sinniger, V,Souard,F, Haudecoeur, R, Marcourt, L, Challal, S, Queiroz, EF, LeBorgne, M, Lomberget,T, Depaulis, A, Lavaud, C, Robins, RJ, Wolfender,J-L, Bonaz, B, De Waard M 2013 Occurrence of the synthetic analgesic tramadol in an African medicinal plant, Angewandte Chemie Int Ed 52, 11780-11784 (Very Important Paper) IF2013=13.73

167 Tea, I, Le Guennec, A, Frasquet-Darrieux, M, Julien, M, Romek, K, Antheaume, I, Hankard, R, Robins, RJ 2013 Simultaneous determination of natural-abundance 15N values and quantity of individual amino acids in proteins from milk of lactating women and from infant hair using gaschromatography-isotope ratio measurement by mass spectrometry, Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 27, 1345-1353 IF2013=2.51

165 Gilbert, A, Robins, RJ, Remaud, GS, Tcherkez, G 2012 Intramolecular13C-patternin hexoses from autotrophic and heterotrophic C3 plant tissues, Proc Natl AcadSci USA, 109, 18204-18209 IF2011=9.68

163 Kwiecien, RA, Le Questel, J-Y, Lebreton, J, Delaforge, M, André, F, Pihan, E, Roussel, A, Fournial, A, Paneth, P, Robins, RJ 2012 CytochromeP450-catalyzed degradation of nicotine: fundamental parameters determining hydroxylation by cytochrome P450 2A6 at the 5'-carbon or the N-methyl-carbon, J Phys Chem B, 116, 7827-7840 IF2011=3.70

161 Gilbert, A, Silvestre, V, Robins, RJ, Remaud, GS, Tcherkez, G 2012 Biochemical and physiological determinants of intramolecular isotope patterns in sucrose from C3, C4 and CAM plants accessed by isotopic 13C NMR spectrometry: a viewpoint, Nat Prod Reports 29, 476-486 IF2011=9.79

Additional information


Co-Editor of the journal Phytochemistry (Elsevier) (2012)

Laureat of the Medal of the Phytochemical Society of Europe (PSE) in recognition of an outstanding contribution to phytochemical research  (2010)

Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Phytochemical Society of Europe (2000-2006)

Treasurer (2001-2006) and founder member, French Stable Isotope Society

Visiting Scientist, University of Kyoto (Royal Society and British Council  bursaries) 1990

Editorial Board member of Phytochemistry, Phytochemistry Letters, Phytochemistry Reviews and Isotopes in Environmental and Health Sciences.

Activity indicators: about 160 publications and 1 patent.

University Cursus and Professional Career development

1975                BA: Biochemistry, Oxford University, Oxford, GB

1978                PhD: Oxford (UK) under the direction of B E JUNIPER

1978-1981       Post-doctoral Research assistant in Biochemistry (UEA, UK)

1981-1994       Scientific Officer at the Institute of Food Research (Norwich, UK)

1984                 MA: Oxford University, Oxford, UK

1995-2007       DR2 at the CNRS (LAIEM, Nantes, France)

2007-               DR1 at the CNRS (LAIEM & CEISAM, Nantes, France)

Mis à jour le 14 November 2023.