When research led by one of the doctoral students in his lab recently landed the cover of a top journal in chemistry and toxicology, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Professor Barry Rosen likened it to a golfer getting a hole in one. “Most researchers go an entire career without a cover,” he said.
Rosen’s team has done it again.
A study led by Jian Chen, Venkadesh Nadar and Rosen that looked at how bacteria sense and respond to arsenic in the environment was selected for the November cover of Molecular Microbiology, one of the top 20 journals in the field. It’s the lab’s second journal cover this year and the fourth in the nine years since Rosen joined FIU.
Arsenic is the most pervasive environmental toxin and carcinogen in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Inorganic arsenic is toxic, but some organic forms of arsenic are much more toxic. These can be produced by bacteria or man. Man-made forms include herbicides and growth promoters for chickens, turkeys and pigs.
“Nearly all bacteria have an arsenic regulatory (ArsR) protein that sense environmental arsenic,” said Rosen. “In this paper, we report the identification of a new variant of ArsR that senses the organic species, but not the inorganic species.” The results of the study, funded by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, explain how bacteria respond to man-made herbicides and animal husbandry growth promoters even when there’s a lot of natural arsenic around.
In addition, the researchers believe they can use this protein as a biosensor to detect when these organic forms contaminate soil and water supplies.