Abel Baerga-Ortiz has a BA in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico; a PhD in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) and was a Royal Society Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge.
The group of Abel Baerga-Ortiz is interested in describing processes that take place at the interface between chemistry and microbiology. We use a variety of chemical methods for the characterization of natural products made by microorganisms. We also use biochemical methods (protein expression/purification and mass spectrometry) to elucidate enzyme processes in microorganisms.
Bacterial production of fatty acids. Large-scale microbial cultures represent an important vehicle for the production of fatty acids and alcohols, both of which can be further processed to make biofuels. A typical strategy for enhancing the production of fatty acids consists of re-engineering the bacterial metabolic pathways by introducing or deleting specific genes. Our group has reported that introducing certain genes from deep-sea bacteria can enhance fatty acid production in E. coli. We are currently working to elucidate how this enhancement in fatty acid production is mediated and whether it can be extended to organisms that aere currently used for commercial production of these valuable compounds.
Pro-inflammatory bacterial genes and colorectal cancer. Many research efforts are focused on elucidating the role of the gut microbiota in the promotion of intestinal diseases such as colorectal cancer. Our group has centered in developing methods for the quick and inexpensive detection of specific bacterial genes in stool samples. As part of this effort, we have found in human stool, a number of bacterial genes that have been previously associated with inflammation in other tissues such as kidney and skin. The presence of these pro-inflammatory genes in the human gut and their increased frequency in colorectal cancer patients, suggest a possible link between harboring these genes and the risk of cancer. We are currently exploring possible mechanisms by which these genes may promote inflammation in the GI tract.
The glycan distribution of viral glycoprotein-based vaccines. The Env glycoprotein from the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the template for a number of vaccine candidates currently under development. It contains 27 glycosylation sites and more than half of its molecular weight is attributable to sugars. Our laboratory is developing MALDI-ToF/ToF methods for the measurement of the glycan composition of HIV Env and its clinically relevant versions.