Distinguished Professor of Oceanography

Research Interests

  • Chemistry of marine plants, microorganisms and invertebrate animals.
  • Utilization of marine-derived compounds for the treatment of various human diseases, in particular cancer and infectious diseases.


  • B.S., California State Polytechnic University
  • M.S., San Jose State University
  • Ph.D., University of California, Riverside

Recent Publications

Nakatsuji, T, Chen TH, Butcher AM, Trzoss LL, Nam SJ, Shirakawa KT, Zhou W, Oh J, Otto M, Fenical W, Gallo RL.  2018.  A commensal strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis protects against skin neoplasia. Science Advances. 4   10.1126/sciadv.aao4502   AbstractWebsite

We report the discovery that strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis produce 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine ( 6-HAP), a molecule that inhibits DNA polymerase activity. In culture, 6-HAP selectively inhibited proliferation of tumor lines but did not inhibit primary keratinocytes. Resistance to 6-HAP was associated with the expression of mitochondrial amidoxime reducing components, enzymes that were not observed in cells sensitive to this compound. Intravenous injection of 6-HAP in mice suppressed the growth of B16F10 melanoma without evidence of systemic toxicity. Colonization of mice with an S. epidermidis strain producing 6-HAP reduced the incidence of ultraviolet-induced tumors compared to mice colonized by a control strain that did not produce 6-HAP. S. epidermidis strains producing 6-HAP were found in the metagenome from multiple healthy human subjects, suggesting that the microbiome of some individuals may confer protection against skin cancer. These findings show a new role for skin commensal bacteria in host defense.

da Silva, RM, Guaratini T, Jimenez PC, Fenical W, Costa-Lotufo LV, Vessecchi R, Lopes NP.  2018.  Mass spectrometry analysis of protonated marine natural product seriniquinone. Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society. 29:1162-1166.   10.21577/0103-5053.20180037   AbstractWebsite

Seriniquinone is a natural quinone isolated from a rare marine bacterium of the genus Serinicoccus. This secondary metabolite has been shown to have anticancer properties, which has raised attention of the scientific community. In this short report, we present the first investigation of the gas-phase chemistry fragmentation reactions of seriniquinone in electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS), to be further applied in pharmacokinetics and metabolism studies. All the proposals herein were supported by computational chemistry.

Kumar, A, Borgen M, Aluwihare LI, Fenical W.  2017.  Ozone-activated halogenation of mono- and dimethylbipyrrole in seawater. Environmental Science & Technology. 51:589-595.   10.1021/acs.est.6b03601   AbstractWebsite

Polyhalogenated N-methylbipyrroles of two different structure classes have been detected worldwide in over 100 environmental samples including seawater, bird eggs, fish, dolphin blubber, and in the breast milk of humans that consume seafood. These molecules are concentrated in the fatty tissues in comparable abundance to some of the most important anthropogenic contaminants, such as the halogenated flame-retardants and pesticides. Although the origin of these compounds is still unknown, we present evidence that the production of these materials can involve the direct ozone activated seawater halogenation of N-methylbipyrrole precursors. This observation shows that environmental polyhalogenated bipyrroles can be produced via an abiotic process, and implies that the ozone activated halogenation of a variety of natural and anthropogenic seawater organics may be a significant process occurring in surface ocean waters.

Hay, AJ, Yang MH, Xia XY, Liu Z, Hammons J, Fenical W, Zhu J.  2017.  Calcium enhances bile salt-dependent virulence activation in Vibrio cholerae. Infection and Immunity. 85   10.1128/iai.00707-16   AbstractWebsite

Vibrio cholerae is the causative bacteria of the diarrheal disease cholera, but it also persists in aquatic environments, where it displays an expression profile that is distinct from that during infection. Upon entry into the host, a tightly regulated circuit coordinates the induction of two major virulence factors: cholera toxin and a toxin-coregulated pilus (TCP). It has been shown that a set of bile salts, including taurocholate, serve as host signals to activate V. cholerae virulence through inducing the activity of the transmembrane virulence regulator TcpP. In this study, we investigated the role of calcium, an abundant mental ion in the gut, in the regulation of virulence. We show that whereas Ca2+ alone does not affect virulence, Ca2+ enhances bile salt-dependent virulence activation for V. cholerae. The induction of TCP by murine intestinal contents is counteracted when Ca2+ is depleted by the high-affinity calcium chelator EGTA, suggesting that the calcium present in the gut is a relevant signal for V. cholerae virulence induction in vivo. We further show that Ca2+ enhances virulence by promoting bile salt-induced TcpP-TcpP interaction. Moreover, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) analysis demonstrated that exposure to bile salts and Ca2+ together decreases the recovery rate for fluorescently labeled TcpP, but not for another inner membrane protein (TatA). Together, these data support a model in which physiological levels of Ca2+ may result in altered bile salt-induced TcpP protein movement and activity, ultimately leading to an increased expression of virulence.

Asolkar, RN, Singh A, Jensen PR, Aalbersberg W, Carte BK, Feussner KD, Subramani R, DiPasquale A, Rheingold AL, Fenical W.  2017.  Marinocyanins, cytotoxic bromo-phenazinone meroterpenoids from a marine bacterium from the streptomycete Glade MAR4. Tetrahedron. 73:2234-2241.   10.1016/j.tet.2017.03.003   AbstractWebsite

Six cytotoxic and antimicrobial metabolites of a new bromo-phenazinone class, the marinocyanins A-F (1-6), were isolated together with the known bacterial metabolites 2-bromo-1-hydroxyphenazine (7), lavanducyanin (8, WS-9659A) and its chlorinated analog WS-9659B (9). These metabolites were purified by bioassay-guided fractionation of the extracts of our MAR4 marine actinomycete strains CNS-284 and CNY-960. The structures of the new compounds were determined by detailed spectroscopic methods and marinocyanin A (1) was confirmed by crystallographic methods. The marinocyanins represent the first bromo-phenazinones with an N-isoprenoid substituent in the skeleton. Marinocyanins A-F show strong to weak cytotoxicity against HCT-116 human colon carcinoma and possess modest antimicrobial activities against Staphylococcus aureus and amphotericin-resistant Candida albicans. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.