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Ph.D. alums Dr. Elias Picazo and Dr. Marco Messina are chosen for the ASBMB’s inaugural 2021 cohort for the MOSAIC program.

In August 2020, The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) received a cooperative agreement with the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences to develop and execute a program that will support postdoctoral fellows and new investigators from diverse backgrounds embarking on careers at research-intensive institutions. (Read about the $1.27 million award in ASBMB Today.)

In February and April 2021, the society welcomed seven MOSAIC participants. (Learn about them in ASBMB Today) and in August 2021, five more participants were welcomed to complete the cohort.  (Learn about them in ASBMB Today)

Kirsten Block, the ASBMB’s director of education, professional development and outreach, is coordinating the program. “We are thrilled to welcome our newest MOSAIC scholars and fill out our first-year cohort,” she said. “As we embark on the second year of this program, it will be exciting to watch these incredible scientists grow professionally as they tap into a full suite of ASBMB resources, programs, expert coaching and a community of practice embedded in the MOSAIC program.”

About Dr. Marco Messina

Messina Marco MOSAICDr. Marco Messina is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor Chris Chang at the University of California, Berkeley. He is developing molecular probes for the activity-based sensing of reactive oxygen species and small molecules involved in biological signaling and oxidative stress.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Messina earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He then earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at UCLA under the direction of  Professors Heather Maynard and Alex Spokoyny.  At UCLA, Messina held officer positions at multiple organizations dedicated to increasing diversity in STEM. He remains a member of the Científico Latino Mentorship Program.

“I am thrilled to be joining a talented cohort of researchers in the MOSAIC program. I look forward to expanding my network within the program and ASBMB and to take advantage of the ample career-development opportunities offered,” Messina said. “I am excited to continue mentorship efforts and to develop programs to promote diversity within STEM as I transition into my independent career.”

Messina’s research project is titled “An activity-based biomolecule labeling platform for the imaging of cells and tissues under oxidative stress.” Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are a family of small-molecules in living systems that serve vital roles in both signaling and stress. Hydrogen peroxide, superoxide, and hypochlorous acid, among others, are all examples of ROS that have been traditionally viewed as sources of oxidative stress and damage. Aberrant ROS production contributes to a multitude of pathologies such as neurodegeneration, cancer, and cardiovascular disorders. However, ROS are also critical for maintaining metabolic homeostasis through activation of multiple classes of proteins. Fluorescent probes are frequently employed to visualize ROS in living systems through fluorescence microscopy, however these probes are not trapped in the cells and tend to diffuse out after ROS detection. This leads to inaccurate determination of ROS localization and poor signal-to-noise responses. As such, there is a need to create probes amenable to the permanent recording of ROS via fluorescence imaging. In this project, we are developing an array of activity-based cell-trappable fluorescent probes that can be used as a platform to gain further understanding of ROS-mediated inter- and intra-cellular signaling.

About Dr. Elias Picazo

Picazo Elias MOSAICDr. Elias Picazo is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor Eric Jacobsen at Harvard University, where he is developing new organocatalytic reactions. A native of California’s Central Valley, Picazo earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and then his Ph.D. from UCLA, where he studied the total synthesis of complex natural products under the direction of Professor Neil Garg.

“I am excited to continue my research endeavors as an independent researcher at a research-intensive university upon completing my postdoctoral training at Harvard. I recently accepted an Assistant Professor job offer from USC and will begin in 2022. I will also use this opportunity to connect with a network of professionals seriously committed to increasing minority representation in science,” Picazo said.

Picazo’s research project is titled “Strategic molecular activations for the selective synthesis of 2-deoxy-beta-glycosides, and for the synthesis of novel donor–acceptor Stenhouse adducts.”  The role of carbohydrates in biological systems cannot be overstated and is of great interest to scientific research. Robust, practical, and general methods for glycosylation reactions with predictable stereoselectivity enable further research in the role of sugars in biological chemistry and medicine. Despite recent advances, glycan synthesis remains a challenging endeavor largely reserved for specialists in sugar chemistry, and a general, selective synthesis of 2-deoxy-β-glycosides remains elusive. Hydrogen-bond-donor catalysts are being used to promote the selective synthesis of 2-deoxy-β-glycosides. The synthesis relies on new approaches to generate unstable phosphate ester glycosyl donors, and on the identification of a tailored organocatalyst to promote stereospecific glycosylations by simultaneously activating the electrophile (the donor) and the nucleophile (the acceptor). Developing a general method for the synthesis of 2-deoxy-β-glycosides 1) provides a solution for the glycosylation of sugars lacking the C2 functionality often used as a directing group via anchimeric assistance, 2) enables further research on their role in biological chemistry and medicine, and 3) provides an alternative strategy for the synthesis of biologically active natural products.

Parts of this article were excerpted from ASBMB Today articles by Angela Hopp.