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posted 07/22/02

Columbia's Dr. Koji Nakanishi and Fellow Chemists Gather at Columbia's Biosphere 2 Center

TUCSON -- Dr. Koji Nakanishi, Columbia's Centennial Professor of Chemistry and Director of Research, Biosphere 2 Center Chemistry Unit, joined, this week, fellow chemists from Columbia, Cornell and Stevens Institute of Technology to plan an upcoming Chemistry of the Biosphere Symposium at Biosphere 2 Center.

Most recently, the Chemistry unit was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to acquire two new chemical analysis equipment (spectrometers), which will allow researches at Biosphere 2 to measure multiple chemical compound samples emitted from plants and insects in real time, simultaneously. In addition, the spectrometers will be used in a research-training program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Since 1969, Dr. Nakanishi has run the natural products research laboratory at Columbia, which studies the complexities of biologically active compounds. He was named Director of Research of new chemistry unit at Biosphere 2 Center in January 2001. His discoveries include determining the chemical structures of more than 180 compounds produced by animals, plants and microorganisms. His research has led to commercial and therapeutic uses of many natural products and his results have had important applications to cancer research and pest management. He has also been studying the mechanism of vision since 1975. In November 2001, Dr. Nakanishi was honored with the "Person of Cultural Merit" award, which he received in Tokyo, the latest in a long list of honors that have heralded the organic chemist's accomplishments, including the Welch Award in chemistry, the Imperial Prize of the Japan Academy, the Arthur C. Cope Award of the American Chemical Society, and the Nakanishi Prize established jointly by the Chemical Societies of America and Japan. He has received honors from nine countries. Dr. Nakanishi has published more than 650 papers and authored, co-authored or edited nine books, including an autobiography published by the American Chemical Society.

The Chemistry Unit Laboratory at Biosphere 2 Center was established in October 2001 to investigate the impact of varying environmental conditions on natural products biosynthesis and the consequences on biological responses mediated by these compounds. The Chemistry Unit includes scientists in natural products chemistry, chemical ecology, neurobiology, insect behavior and molecular biology focused on investigating the impact of environmental conditions on natural products biosynthesis.

The uniqueness of this collaborative effort is its focus on understanding the interaction between environmentally induced chemical responses and consequential biological responses of organisms, particularly plants and insects, via natural products. The large-scale synthetic communities of plants and soils inside the Biosphere 2 Laboratory provides the "model" environments needed for these studies. These mesocosms offer unique research opportunities to study "system-level" responses to controlled and measured environmental conditions such as atmospheric composition and light exposure. At present, the Chemistry unit is conducting three experiments including: The role of ultraviolet light on natural products chemistry, biosynthesis and insect biology; chemically mediated moth-hostplant interactions under varying environmental conditions; and a comprehensive chemical characterization, including communication and defense, in a pantropical ant (Paratrechina longicornis).

Biosphere 2 Center is located outside of Tucson, AZ, devoted to deepening the understanding of earth systems vital to the policies and decisions that will affect Earth's future. Equipped with a 3.1 acre, glass-enclosed, research laboratory, and offering academic programs in earth systems for high school, undergraduate and graduate students as well as educational programs for 180,000 annual visitors and local school children, Biosphere 2 continues its mission to foster informed leadership and intelligent stewardship of the planet.

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