Fulbright professor studies fat cells in plants

Alejandro Barbieri, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar Program fellowship.

Administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, the Fulbright Scholar Program is the U.S. government’s flagship academic exchange effort. It sends approximately 800 American faculty and professionals each year to 140 countries to lecture, teach and conduct research.

Originally from Buenos Aires, Barbieri attended the Universidad Nacional de San Luis in Mendoza, Argentina. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and  master’s and doctorate degrees in biochemistry. He joined FIU in 2004 as an assistant professor of biology.

“I learned by word of mouth from colleagues here in the states that FIU is one of the country’s top minority-serving institutions,” Barbieri said. “That really attracted me to the university. I knew that I wanted to be a part of an institution that has these great learning and research opportunities for underserved groups.”

Barbieri’s research focuses on cellular biology, including the processes of endocytosis, phagocytosis and signal transduction. As part of the Fulbright program, he is visiting the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Barbieri is conducting cell biology and phytochemical research examining the role of native plant extracts on the in vitro development of fat cells.

“Plants produce organic compounds called secondary metabolites,” Barbieri said. “I’ll work with university researchers to isolate these compounds to see which ones can block fat formation in plant cells. This type of research can help, in the long run, with the development of medications that can block fat formation in humans. Plants are ideal because we can see the secondary effects on them instead of on human patients.”

Barbieri is also teaching a graduate-level course and conducting a workshop in molecular and cellular biology in the university’s biotechnology center.

“I love to teach,” Barbieri said. “I think it’s important for us educators to promote the many exchange opportunities available to students and faculty. These programs build bridges. We need to cross cultures and boundaries and work with each other in order to learn from each other.”

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