Research Interests

Our group is interested in the use of biotechnology to study environmental issues. Our main focus is on the marine environment and the study of soft corals that produce bioactive metabolites (marine natural products). In addition, we are interested in the signaling pathway of the stress response in corals that leads to bleaching and/or disease. Finally, we are interested in the process of microbial influenced corrosion (MIC) of oil field pipelines.

1. Soft Coral-Associated Microbial Communities

  • A goal of our lab is to study the genetic and chemical diversity of bacterial communities associated with corals and other marine invertebrates.
  • In addition, we are involved in the culture of microbial populations associated with marine invertebrates.
  •  Our focus is on soft corals and other natural product-producing invertebrates such as sponges and tunicates.
  •  Of particular interest are intra- and inter-geographical variations of microbial populations within the same species of organisms.
  •  We are also interested in the culture of these bacteria with the ultimate goal of natural product production.

2. Molecular Mechanism of Environmental Stresses in Marine Organisms

  • A second goal is to identify and quantify by molecular techniques the stress and immune response of corals and other soft-bodied invertebrates and of their symbiotic organisms.
  • We will begin by focusing on the expression at the mRNA level of the stress-inducible heat shock proteins, nitric oxide synthase (NOS), and other proteins that might be involved in the stress and immune response of soft corals and their symbionts.
  •  Currently, my lab in collaboration with Dr. Cliff Ross (U. of North Florida) and Dr. Laura Mydlarz (UT Arlington) has been analyzing the stress response of a soft corals at the molecular and at the protein level. The selected model organisms respond to thermal stress by bleaching (loss of symbiotic zooxanthellae).

3. Biotechnology of Marine Natural Products

  • Our work on this area focuses on soft coral metagenomes that are known to be involved in the production of natural products with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
  •  My lab will be using biotechnology to clone and express key enzymes involved in the biosynthetic pathways of some of these biologically active compounds with the ultimate goal of producing these by fermentation.

4. Microbial Influenced Corrosion of Oil-Field Pipelines

  •  Corrosion associated with oil field pipelines causes economic loses to the oil and gas industry.
  •  Bacterial biofilms are known to trigger a process known as microbial-influenced corrosion (MIC) of which the exact mechanism is not completely understood.
  •  The study of the bacterial diversity associated to biofilms will allow for the better understanding of the interaction between corrosive bacteria and metal surfaces
  •  Our lab aims to identify the bacterial population in biofilms collected from oil field pipelines and to understand how these are involved in corrosion.
  •  This project is in collaboration with Dr. Victor Keasler, Nalco Company.