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Biological Chemistry

Arthur C. Cope Scholar: Bradley S. Moore

by Jyllian Kemsley
March 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 9

Credit: Andrew Schultz
Bradley S. Moore
Credit: Andrew Schultz

Given his background, it’s no surprise that Bradley S. Moore’s research focuses on marine microbes’ biosynthesis of complex natural products. Inspiration was all around him: Born and raised on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, he grew up by the ocean and surfed regularly.

In addition, Moore’s father, Richard E. Moore, a chemistry professor at the University of Hawaii, was one of the founders of the marine natural products field. While earning a B.S. in chemistry at the university, Bradley Moore worked in his father’s lab—an experience the son enjoyed a lot. “It’s special for a kid to be part of the work your parent is passionate about and experience the kinds of things that they do when they’re not being parents,” he says.

Moore, now 46, was fascinated by the structures of the natural products that his father and others discovered. His questions soon turned to biosynthesis. “I began to wonder how nature assembles these beautiful molecules without resorting to the harsh synthetic reagents one typically finds in a chemistry laboratory,” he says.

To learn biosynthesis, Moore “braved the frigid weather” of Seattle to study with bioorganic chemist Heinz G. Floss at the University of Washington, he says. After earning a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1994, he moved to Switzerland to do postdoctoral research on enzymology with John A. Robinson at the University of Zurich. Moore subsequently held faculty appointments at the University of Washington and the University of Arizona—Moore describes the latter as having “lots of beach but no ocean”—before he was hired away by the University of California, San Diego, where he now holds joint appointments at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. He is also the associate director of UCSD’s Center for Marine Biotechnology & Biomedicine.

Moving to the UCSD community allowed Moore’s research to explode, he says. He began focusing on microbial genomics, and “that was our window to look deeply into the biochemical capabilities of organisms and realize that we were only scratching the surface of their chemical potential,” he says. “When grown in the lab, you may only see 10% of their chemical capacity, but genomics allows you to deduce their biosynthetic potential,” which can be exploited through genetic manipulation, he adds.

Highlights of Moore’s work include genome sequencing and analysis of the tropical marine bacterium Salinispora tropica and biosynthetic characterization of salinosporamide A, which is now in clinical trials for cancer therapy. Moore’s lab later engineered the microbe to produce a variety of unnatural analogs, including a fluorinated version.

Expanding upon his interests in the biochemistry of halogenation, Moore is now studying polybrominated aromatic molecules in the marine environment. Although many man-made polybrominated compounds are outlawed because of toxicity issues, some are also biosynthesized by marine organisms. As director of Scripps Center for Oceans & Human Health, Moore and his colleagues are now looking at how nature makes such molecules and how they accumulate in organisms and migrate through the marine food web.


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