Backus, Keriann M.

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Assistant Professor
Chemical Biology
Systems Biology and Biological Regulation

Contact Information

BSRB Room 350A
BSRB 346

Short Biography

Prof. Backus received her B.S. in Chemistry and B.A. in Latin American Studies from Brown University in 2007. As a 2007 Rhodes Scholar and an NIH Oxford Cambridge Scholar, she pursued her Ph.D. in the laboratories of Prof. Benjamin Davis (Oxford) and Prof. Clifton Barry (NIH, NIAID). Her doctoral research focused on the synthesis and application of trehalose-based chemical probes to label and image Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 2012 Dr. Backus completed her doctorate and began an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at The Scripps Research Institute in the laboratory of Prof. Benjamin Cravatt. At TSRI she developed chemical proteomics platforms to conduct covalent fragment-based screening at cysteine and lysine residues proteome-wide. Prof. Backus is an Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry at the David Geffen School of Medicine an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA.

Research Interests

In the area of chemical biology, the Backus Group combines chemical probe synthesis with activity based protein profiling and chemical proteomics to develop chemical tools to manipulate the human immune system. Research within the group spans chemical biology, organic synthesis, pharmacology, immunology, biochemistry and systems biology.

Honors & Awards

  • Kolin Endowed Chair (2019)
  • V Scholar Research Award (2019)
  • DARPA Young Faculty Award (2019)
  • Beckman Young Investigator (2019)
  • Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellowship (2013)
  • Rhodes Scholarship, Washington State and New College (2007)
  • NIH Oxford Cambridge Scholarship (2007)
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Rhode Island Chapter (2007)
  • USA Today Academic All-Star (2007)
  • National Merit Scholar (2003)


  •  Suzuki–Miyaura cross-coupling for chemoproteomic applications Cao J, Armenta A, Boatner LM, Desai HS, Chan NJ, Castellón JO, Backus KM (2020) ChemRxiv.  doi:10.26434/chemrxiv.12055218.v1.(link)
  •  Integrative x-ray structure and molecular modeling for the rationalization of procaspase-8 inhibitor potency and selectivity Xu JH, Eberhardt, J, Hill-Payne B, Eberhardt J, González-Páez GE, Castellón JO, Cravatt, BF, Forli S#, Wolan DW#, Backus KM#. (2020) ACS Chem Biol. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.0c00019.  bioRxiv 721951 doi: 10.1101/721951; #co-corresponding author.(link)
  •  Opportunities and challenges for the development of covalent chemical immunomodulators Backus KM, Jian Cao, Sean Maddox, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. (2019) pii: S0968-0896(19)30222-6 (link)
  •  Applications of Reactive Cysteine Profiling Backus KM, (2018) In: . Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg (link)
  •  Chemical Proteomics Identifies Druggable Vulnerabilities in a Genetically Defined Cancer Bar-Peled L., Kemper EK, Suciu RM, Vinogradova EV, Backus KM, Horning BD, Paul TA, Ichu TA, Svensson RU, Olucha J, Chang MW, Kok BP, Zhu Z, Ihle NT, Dix MM, Jiang P, Hayward MM, Saez E, Shaw RJ, Cravatt BF, Cell. 171(3):696-709 (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.08.051 (link)
  • Proteome-wide assessment of lysine reactivity and ligandability Hacker, SM*#Backus, KM*#, Lazear, MR, Forli, S, Correia, B, Cravatt, BF#, Nature Chemistry (2017) *co-first authorship; #co-corresponding author (link)
  • Discovery of Reactive Microbiota-Derived Metabolites that Inhibit Host Proteases Guo, CJ, Chang, F-Y, Wyche, TP, Backus, KM, Acker, TM, Funabashi, M, Taketani, M, Donia, MS, Nayfach, S, Pollard, KS., Cravatt, BF, Craik, CS, Clardy, J, Voigt, CA, Fischbach, MA, Cell 168(3): 517-526 (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.12.021(link)
  • A Screen for Protein-Protein Interactions in Live Mycobacteria Reveals a Functional Link between the Virulence-Associated Lipid Transporter LprG and the Mycolyltransferase Antigen 85A Touchette, MH, Bai, L, Van Vlack, ER, Cognetta, AB, Previti, ML, Backus, KM, Martin, DW, Cravatt, BF, Seeliger, JC ACS. Infec. Dis. 3(5):336-348 (2017) doi: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.6b00179 (link)
  • Covalent Modifiers of the Vacuolar ATPase Chen YC, Backus KM, Merkulova M, Yang C, Brown D, Cravatt BF, Zhang C., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 139(2):639–642 (2017) doi: 10.1021/jacs.6b12511 (link)
  • Chemical proteomic profiling of human methyltransferases Horning, B, Suciu, M, Ghadiri, D, Ulanovskaya, O, Lum, K, Backus, K, Brown, S, Rosen, H, Cravatt, B, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 138(40):13335-13343 (2016) DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b07830 (link)
  • Chemical proteomic map of dimethylfumarate-sensitive cysteines in primary human T cells Blewett, M, Xie, J, Zaro, B, Backus, KM, Altman, A, Teijaro, J, Cravatt, BF Science Signaling, 9(445):rs10 (2016) doi: 10.1126/scisignal.aaf7694 (link)
  • Paracrine Induction of HIF by Glutamate in Breast Cancer: EglN1 Senses Cysteine Briggs, KJ, Koivunen, P, Cao, S, Backus, KM, Olenchock, BA, Patel H, Zhang, Q, Signoretti, S., Gerfen, GJ, Richardson, AL, Witkiewicz, AK, Cravatt, BF, Clardy, J, Kaelin, Jr, WG Cell 166(1):126-39 (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.05.042 (link)
  • Proteome-wide covalent ligand discovery in native biological systems Backus, KM*#, Correia, B*, Lum, K., Forli, S, Horning, B, González-Páez, GE, Chatterjee, S, Lanning, BR, Teijaro, JR, Olson, AJ, Wolan, DW, Cravatt, BF, Nature 534(7608):570-4 (2016) *co-first authorship; #co-corresponding author doi: 10.1038/nature18002 (link)
  • The Three Mycobacterium tuberculosis Antigen 85 Isoforms have Unique Substrates and Activities Determined by Non-active Site Regions Backus, KM, Dolan, M, Barry, Barry, CS, Joe, M, McPhie, P, Boshoff, HM, Lowary, TL, Davis, BG#, Barry, CE III#, J. Biol. Chem. 289(36):25041-53 (2014) #co-corresponding author  doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.581579 (link)
  • ESI-MS Assay of M. tuberculosis Cell Wall Antigen 85 Enzymes Permits Substrate Profiling and Design of a Mechanism-Based Inhibitor Barry, CS, Backus, KM, Barry, CS III, Davis, BG, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 133(34):13232-5 (2011) doi: 10.1021/ja204249p (link)
  • Uptake of unnatural trehalose analogs as a reporter for Mycobacterium tuberculosis Backus, K.M., Boshoff, H., Barry, C.T., Boutureira, O., Patel, M., D’Hooge, F., Lee, S., Kapil, T., Via, LE, Barry, CE III#, Davis, BG#, Nat. Chem. Biol. 7(4): 228-235 (2011) #co-corresponding author doi: 10.1038/nchembio.539 (link)