Joseph Parker, Ph.D.


Joseph Parker, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biology and Biological Engineering
California Institute of Technology
1200 E. California Blvd., MC216-76
City, State, ZIP
Pasadena, CA 91125
[email protected]
Research field
Cell Biology
Award year


My lab will use rove beetles to uncover mechanisms by which animal cell types synthesize and secrete bioactive small molecules. Rove beetles (Staphylinidae) comprise a global radiation of tens of thousands of species that are the “chemists of the animal kingdom.” These minute insects possess exocrine glands capable of producing an impressive array of chemical compounds that adapt the beetles to different ecological niches. Some manufacture defensive cocktails that repel predators; others exude intoxicants that behaviorally manipulate social insects such as ants, enabling the beetles to live symbiotically inside colonies. Combining advanced methods in genetics, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology, I will determine how rove beetle glands synthesize and secrete their unique chemical payloads, and assess how their cell types can be “reprogrammed” during evolution to produce novel compounds. Rove beetle secretory cell types have functional analogs in other animals, including humans; this work will illuminate core cellular mechanisms of small molecule biosynthesis, dysfunction of which can contribute to diseases from schizophrenia to hypothyroidism. Further, many of the compounds that rove beetles secrete are unidentified, and their modes of action on the nervous system uncharacterized. My lab will explore these compounds and how they influence ant brains and behavior, potentially uncovering new natural products with therapeutic potential.

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