Microbial catabolism: Drug targets to biocatalysts

Bacteria possess an astounding armamentarium of catabolic activities. These activities drive important ecological processes, have tremendous biotechnological potential and, in the case of pathogens, ensure survival under host-imposed constraints. The overall objective of our research is to characterize key pathways and enzymes involved in the catabolism of aromatic compounds and steroids in Mycobacterium and Rhodococcus. This includes, elucidating the catalytic mechanism of enzymes, understanding how mycobacteria and rhodococci coordinate the concurrent catabolism of multiple growth substrates, and harnessing this knowledge to create useful biocatalysts and urgently needed therapeutics. Specifically, we seek to understand:

  • The pathways and enzymes involved in the catabolism of lignin-derived aromatics.
  • How steroid catabolism is essential to the pathogenesis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • How we can harness catabolic and oleaginous abilities of Rhodococcus to create biocatalysts.






Sustainable biomaterials

Lindsay Eltis

Lindsay Eltis


The Univeristy of British Columbia

Microbiology and Immunology



Lindsay obtained his PhD in Biochemistry in 1989 studying interactions between metalloproteins. His interest in bacterial catabolic enzymes and pathways began during his postdoctoral studies in Germany, when he studied enzymes involved in the degradation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). His primary research interest is bacterial enzymes and pathways responsible for the degradation of aromatic compounds and steroids. The author of over 170 peer-reviewed, original research papers, he uses a wide variety of approaches to gain novel insights into the molecular basis of these catabolic processes. His most significant contributions have provided insights into how important classes of enzymes work and how certain pathogens survive in their hosts. Lindsay’s research has important implications for the development of novel biocatalysts for more sustainable processes as well as the development of novel therapeutics. In 2014, Lindsay was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Microbial Catabolism and Biocatalysis.


  • Bacterial catabolic enzymes and pathways
  • Lignin degradation
  • Steroid catabolism
  • Mycobacterium and Rhodococcus


  • PhD, Biochemistry, 1989

    University of British Columbia

Projects in the lab

Bacterial catabolism of lignin derived-molecules

Upgrading lignin, an under-utilized component of biomass, is essential for the sustainability of biorefineries.

Rhodococcal biocatalysts to produce high-value molecules

The biosynthetic potential of Rhodococcus can be harnessed to create sustainable chemicals and biomaterials that reduce our dependance on petroleum and palm oil.

Steroid catabolism in bacteria

Some bacteria, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, can utilize steroids as growth substrates. This has important ecological, biotechnological, and pathogenical implications.

Insight into C-C bond hydrolases

The cleavage of C-C bonds is a challenging, but necessary reaction. We seek to understand the myriad approaches natural has evolved to tackle this obstacle.

Recent publications

(2024). The catabolism of ethylene glycol by Rhodococcus jostii RHA1 and its dependence on mycofactocin. Appl Environ Microbiol.


(2024). The catabolism of lignin-derived p-methoxylated aromatic compounds by Rhodococcus jostii RHA1. Appl Environ Microbiol.


(2023). Cholesterol-Mediated Coenzyme A Depletion in Catabolic Mutants of Mycobacteria Leads to Toxicity. ACS Infect Dis.


(2023). Deciphering the biosynthesis of a novel lipid in Mycobacterium tuberculosis expands the known roles of the nitroreductase superfamily. J Biol Chem.


(2023). Cyclic AMP-Mediated Inhibition of Cholesterol Catabolism in Mycobacterium tuberculosis by the Novel Drug Candidate GSK2556286. Antimicrob Agents Chemother.


News and updates

Best wishes Nayyara

Our undergraduate student Parsa Nayyara is off to work in Germany over the summer

Recruitment in the Eltis lab

The Eltis lab is looking to recruit PhD students and post docs for a variety of projects, contact us.