URI to host lecture on venomous cone snails, March 17

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KINGSTON, R.I. – March 3, 2016 — Baldomero Olivera, distinguished professor of biology at the University of Utah, will present the University of Rhode Island’s annual Cruickshank Lecture on March 17 at 5 p.m. His topic will be “Venomous Cone Snails: Evolutionary Success through Neuropharmacology.”


The event, in the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences on the URI Kingston campus, is free and open to the public.


Olivera’s study of venomous cone snails, which are native to his homeland of the Philippines, has traversed the fields of marine natural history, animal behavior, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology and drug discovery. His molecular characterization of the venom revealed a large number of peptide neurotoxins, some of which are now in human trials as treatment for intractable pain.


“Cone snails are known to shell collectors for their extraordinary beauty and to marine biologists for their remarkable predatory behaviors,” said Jacqueline Webb, director of the URI Marine Biology Program. “Some species have small venom-laden harpoons that they deploy in order to immobilize live fish, which they then consume whole. Dr. Olivera’s groundbreaking research on the venoms of these fish predators started with simple observations of their behavior on coral reefs and now focuses on how particular chemical components of their venoms can be used to treat pain in humans.”


Olivera has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Damon Runyon Fellow, and a Humboldt Foundation Senior Scientist, and he has received the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology, among other awards. In his capacity as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor, he also runs the Chemistry to Biodiversity project, which engages elementary school students in the U.S. and the Philippines in hands-on experimental science to encourage them to explore biodiversity and cultural traditions.


He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of the Philippines and a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, where he studied biophysical chemistry. He conducted postdoctoral research in biochemistry at Stanford University. His early research included the discovery and biochemical characterization of E. coli DNA ligase.


In addition to his public lecture, Olivera will also present a research seminar to students and faculty on Friday, March 18 at 3 p.m. entitled “Biomedical Applications and Molecular Biology of Conus Venom Peptides.”


The Cruikshank Lectureship, which rotates among the biology, chemistry and physics departments at the University of Rhode Island, was established in 1999. It is named for Alexander M. Cruikshank, who served on the URI chemistry faculty for 30 years and was subsequently the director of the Gordon Research Conferences until his retirement in 1993.


For more information about the lecture, contact Jacqueline Webb at urimbio@etal.uri.edu.