Most researchers will go an entire career without earning a journal cover. Barry P. Rosen just landed his fifth—the third one since joining FIU.
Having research highlighted on the cover of a science journal is an achievement and a point of pride for a scientist. It helps build reputation and is likely to attract not only the attention of peers but also funding agencies.
“Getting a cover is like a golfer getting a hole in one,” says Rosen, a basic scientist and distinguished university professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. “I’ve been lucky.”
Rosen is very good at what he does — he is a world-renowned expert on the transport and detoxification of metals in bacteria, yeast, protozoans, mammals and plants. He held a prestigious MERIT Award renewed as an R01 and recently as a MIRA Award until 2025, placing it in the top 100 longest continuously funded National Institutes of Health grants.
Over four decades, Rosen has produced nearly 400 research publications. The most recent study of antimony-resistant bacteria is featured on the cover of the August 2021 issue of Molecular Microbiology.
“Chinese researchers isolated the bacteria from an antimony mine. We cloned the genes that allowed them to grow in the presence of antimony. And we found they had a master regulator, like an on/off light switch, that turns on in the presence of antimony to pump it out of the cell,” Rosen explained.
By expressing the protein product from that gene, purifying it and crystalizing it, they solved its structure.
That three-dimensional crystal structure is the picture on the cover.
Antimony is a highly toxic metalloid. It is used in flame-retardant materials, batteries, type metal (in printing presses), bullets and the drug Pentostam used to treat leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “everyone is exposed to low levels of antimony in the environment.” Long-term exposure can be more serious. People who work in industries that process antimony can experience eye, skin, lung and gastric irritation. Toxicity from antimony-containing drugs causes damage to the heart and pancreas.
“What we learn from these antimony resistant bacteria can be utilized to make antimony drugs more effective or to create biosensors that test for antimony in water or soil, “ said Masafumi Yoshinaga, a fellow researcher at the College of Medicine. “It could lead to methods for removing toxic metals from the environment.”
Yoshinaga and Rosen were part of an international team that in 2019 discovered a new arsenic-based broad-spectrum antibiotic by studying bacteria resistant to arsenic.