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 Interest

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.


  • Bar-Peled L., Kemper E.K., Suciu R.M., Vinogradova E.V., Backus K.M., Horning B.D., Paul T.A., Ichu T.A., Svensson R.U., Olucha J., Chang M.W., Kok B.P., Zhu Z., Ihle N.T., Dix M.M., Jiang P., Hayward M.M., Saez E., Shaw R.J., Cravatt B.F."Chemical Proteomics Identifies Druggable Vulnerabilities in a Genetically Defined Cancer," Cell 171(3):696-709 (2017)
  • Hacker, S.M.,Backus, K.M, Lazear, M.R., Forli, S., Correia, B., Cravatt, B.F., "Proteome-wide assessment of lysine reactivity and ligandability," Nature Chemistry (2017) *co-first authorship; #co-corresponding author
  • Guo, C.J., Chang, F.-Y., Wyche, T.P., Backus, K.M., Acker, T.M.., Funabashi, M., Taketani, M., Donia, M.S., Nayfach, S., Pollard, K.S., Cravatt, B.F., Craik, C.S., Clardy, J., Voigt, C.A., Fischbach, M.A. "Peptide aldehydes from a widely distributed family of gene clusters in gut bacteria," Cell 168(3): 517-526 (2017)
  • Touchette, M.H., Bai, L., Van Vlack, E. R., Cognetta, A.B., Previti, M.L, Backus, K.M., Martin, D.W., Cravatt, B.F., Seeliger, J.C. " 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," ACS. Infec. Dis. 3(5):336-348 (2017)
  • Chen YC, Backus, K.M., Merkulova M, Yang C, Brown D, Cravatt BF, Zhang C., "Covalent Modifiers of the Vacuolar ATPase," J. Am. Chem. Soc. 139 (2):639–642 (2017)
  • Horning, B.D., Suciu, M., Ghadiri, D., Ulanovskaya, O., Lum, K., Backus, K.M., Brown, S., Rosen, H., Cravatt, B. "Chemical proteomic profiling of human methyltransferases," J. Am. Chem. Soc. 138(40):13335-13343 (2016).
  • Blewett, M., Xie, J., Zaro, B., Backus, K.M., Altman, A., Teijaro, J., Cravatt, B.F. "Chemical proteomic map of dimethylfumarate-sensitive cysteines in primary human T cells," Science Signaling 9(445):rs10 (2016)
  • Briggs, K.J., Koivunen, P., Cao, S., Backus, K.M., Olenchock, B.A., Patel H., Zhang, Q., Signoretti, S., Gerfen, G.J., Richardson, A.L., Witkiewicz, A.K, Cravatt, B.F., Clardy, J., Kaelin, Jr, W.G. "Paracrine Induction of HIF by Glutamate in Breast Cancer: EglN1 Senses Cysteine," Cell 166(1):126-39 (2016)
  • Backus, K.M., Correia, B.*, Lum, K., Forli, S., Horning, B., González-Páez, G.E., Chatterjee, S., Wolan, D., Cravatt, B.F.#" Proteome-wide covalent ligand discovery in native biological systems," Nature 534(7608):570-4 (2016) *co-first authorship; #co-corresponding author
  • Backus, K.M., Dolan, M., Barry, Barry, C.S., Joe, M., McPhie, P., Boshoff, H. M., Lowary, T. L., Davis, B. G., Barry, C.E. III. “The Three Mycobacterium tuberculosis Antigen 85 Isoforms have Unique Substrates and Activities Determined by Non-active Site Regions,” J. Biol. Chem. 289(36):25041-53 (2014)
  • Barry, C.S., Backus, K.M., Barry, C.S. III, Davis, B.G. “ESI-MS Assay of M. tuberculosis Cell Wall Antigen 85 Enzymes Permits Substrate Profiling and Design of a Mechanism-Based Inhibitor,” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 133(34):13232-5 (2011)
  • Backus, K.M., Boshoff, H., Barry, C.T., Boutureira, O., Patel, M., D’Hooge, F., Lee, S., Kapil, T., Via, L.E., Barry, C.E.*, III, Davis, B.G*. “Uptake of unnatural trehalose analogs as a reporter for Mycobacterium tuberculosis,” Nat. Chem. Biol. 7(4): 228-235 (2011)