Chemistry Seminar with Prof.John Berry from Florida International University


Dr. John Berry, Associate Professor

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Marine Science Program, Florida International University, Miami, FL

Abstract: Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest groups of organisms on Earth, and recognized producers of a remarkable diversity of bioactive compounds including those relevant to biomedicine (i.e., drug discovery) and environmental health (i.e., “toxins”).  Although ubiquitous in the environment, the cyanobacteria are perhaps most conspicuous, as the “blue-green algae,” in freshwater habitats in which they are associated with production of various toxic metabolites as part of both so-called “harmful algal blooms” (HABs), as well as eutrophication, and consequent deterioration, of aquatic systems.  A number of cyanobacterial toxins have been linked to cases of human and animal poisoning, as well as possible chronic human health impacts such as carcinogenicity, and contributions to neurodegenerative disease.  However, much of the bioactive chemistry of the cyanobacteria remains to be investigated.  In order to further elucidate potentially relevant toxic metabolites from cyanobacteria, we have developed bio-analytical techniques based on embryonic and larval stages of the zebrafish (Danio rerio), as a model vertebrate system, and applied these techniques to the identification, isolation and characterization of toxic metabolites from cyanobacteria.  An overview of this approach, and specific examples of how it is revealing otherwise unseen impacts of toxic cyanobacterial metabolites on human and animal health, as well as deterioration of aquatic ecoystems, will be presented.

Biography: Dr. Berry is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and affiliated Marine Science Program, at Florida International University where his research focuses on toxic or otherwise bioactive metabolites from marine and freshwater algae, as well as other microbes.  He received his Ph.D. in Phytochemistry (with Dr. Eloy Rodriguez) from Cornell University in 1998, and subsequently conducted postdoctoral research as part of NIH-funded fellowships at both Cornell University (1998-2000), and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Miami (2000-2002) where he continued as an Assistant (and later Associate) Scientist in the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RMAS).  In 2006, Dr. Berry joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and specifically the newly established Marine Sciences Program, at FIU.  In addition to teaching and research at FIU, Dr. Berry is also involved in several relevant programs related to research-based training including the NIH/Cornell University Minority Health and Health Disparity International Research Training (MHIRT) summer program in the Dominican Republic, and the American Chemical Society SEED program.  He has received continuous financial support for his research, since 2002, through grants from federal agencies including the NIH, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Science Foundation (NSF), among other sources.