All organisms use chemicals to assess their environment and to communicate with others. Chemical cues for defense, mating, habitat selection, and food tracking are crucial, widespread, and structurally and functionally diverse. Yet our knowledge of chemical signaling is patchy, especially in marine environments. In our research we ask, “How do marine organisms use chemicals to solve critical problems of competition, disease, predation, and reproduction?” Our group uses an integrated approach to understand how chemical cues function in ecological interactions, working from molecular to community levels. We also use ecological insights to guide discovery of novel pharmaceuticals and molecular probes.
In collaboration with other scientists, our most significant scientific achievements to date are: 1) characterizing the unusual molecular structures of antimicrobial defenses that protect algae from pathogens and which show promise to treat human disease; 2) understanding that competition among single-celled algae (phytoplankton) is mediated by a complex interplay of chemical cues that affect harmful algal bloom dynamics; 3) unraveling the molecular modes of action of antimalarial natural products towards developing new treatments for drug-resistant infectious disease; 4) discovering that progesterone signaling and quorum sensing are key pathways in the alternating sexual and asexual reproductive strategy of microscopic invertebrate rotifers – animals whose evolutionary history was previously thought to preclude either cooperative behavior (quorum sensing) typically associated with bacteria and hormonal regulation via progesterone typically seen in vertebrates; 5) identifying a novel aversive chemoreception pathway in predatory fish that results in rapid recognition and rejection of chemically defended foods, thereby protecting these foods (prey) from predators.
Past lab members
Dr. Samantha Mascuch, Postdoctoral researcher; currently Clinical Scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Dr. Nazia Mojib, Postdoctoral researcher
Dr. Serge Lavoie, Postdoctoral researcher, currently Assistant Professor in Université du Québec en Outaouais, Canada
Dr. Korry Barnes, Postdoctoral researcher; currently Assistant Professor of Chemistry, United States Naval Academy, USA
Dr. Margaret E. Teasdale, Postdoctoral researcher; currently Research Associate Professor at University of Rhode Island, USA
Dr. Clare Redshaw, Postdoctoral researcher; currently free-lance consultant, UK
Dr. An-Shen Lin, Postdoctoral researcher; currently Manager at Lotus Pharmaceutical Co., Taiwan
Dr. Renwang Jiang, Postdoctoral researcher; currently Professor of Natural Products Chemistry, Jinan University, China
Dr. Dwight Collins, Postdoctoral researcher; currently Cofounder and Director of Corporate Strategy and Research, Jamaica Scientific Research Institute, Jamaica