Daniel Romo, SYNTHETIC ORGANIC/BIOLOGICAL CHEMIST,
College Station, Texas
"Being able to make compounds related to the natural product opens up avenues to further explore cell biology."
What He's Doing
Daniel Romo has always liked doing things on his own. He had an independent study class his senior year in high school, where he had free reign to try different experiments he found in the literature. In college he found that the innovation and creativity required to make molecules in organic chemistry played right into his interests. "It was all history from there," he says.
Romo is interested in the chemical synthesis of natural products, or reproduction and creation of natural products in a lab setting. In the lab and through collaborations, he can study their mechanism of action, follow biosynthetic clues to simplify the steps needed to make the natural product, and investigate their potential for use as a treatment or therapy. This search led Romo to examine marine specimens. Many recent bioactive molecules have been discovered in marine species that are now making their way to the clinic.
San Antonio, Texas
Texas A&M University
ALTERNATE CAREER CHOICES
If I couldn't be dreaming up ways to make natural products, I would want to be diving to isolate those natural products and fishing from the deck on my off time!
Dates with my wife, hanging out with my boys (including fishing), science/religion intersection
Sushi, making Japan one of my favorite conference sites (just can't get away from marine organisms!)
Romo and his colleagues developed a way to manufacture the natural product pateamine A (PatA), isolated from a species of sea sponge, fueled by the finding that it was found to be 2,000 times more toxic to tumor cells than to normal cells. This gave it fantastic potential as a tool for cell biology and a potential anticancer candidate.
"Often the natural product itself might not be the best tool to use in cellular studies. Being able to make compounds that are related to the natural product opens up avenues to further explore cell biology and drug development," says Romo.
In the case of PatA, Romo designed a simplified product and in the process was able to cut an initial route to the natural product from 24 steps down to 14 steps. This is a big plus in terms of potential drug development since fewer steps are required to produce a potential drug candidate.
Romo also views natural products as inspiration for developing new methods to make organic molecules. "Considering how these amazing organisms might produce such complex, intricate chemicals gives us a clue as to how we might best be able to make them in the lab," he said.
A particular class of compounds, called marine alkaloids, has captivated Romo and many others around the world. "They are fascinating molecules!" he exclaimed. In another project, Romo is investigating gymnodimine, a marine biotoxin found in red tides. Having completed a synthesis of this toxin, he is now working to develop an antibody that will recognize the toxin in the ocean. Being able to detect and monitor levels of harmful toxins in the water can prevent people from fishing and ultimately eating contaminated fish and shellfish.
Overall, Romo sees natural products as playgrounds for developing new synthetic strategies and making related compounds with potentially important therapeutic applications. Natural products are keys to cell biology, and he is working to build the bridge between synthesis and biology.