UTSA biologists win $940,000 in stimulus funds to advance research

By Christi Fish
Public Affairs Specialist

(July 31, 2009)--Robert Renthal, professor of biochemistry in the UTSA College of Sciences' Department of Biology and José Lopez-Ribot, professor of microbiology and a member of the university's South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, have received a combined $940,000 in stimulus funding from the National Institutes of Health to further their research over the next two years.

An expert in insect sensory perception, Rentahl received UTSA's first stimulus funding award of $390,000 to study the purpose and function of four parts of an insect pheromone receptor's structure. Pheromone receptors detect the chemical communication signals insects use to attract a mate, signal danger or identify a food trail. Renthal expects his research to give scientists a better understanding of how to use pheromones to attract beneficial insects or repel harmful insects to protect the nation's food supply and to control insect-borne diseases.

Renthal has served on UTSA's faculty since 1975 and credits the South Texas Technology Management (STTM) Proof of Concept: Roadrunner (POCrr) grant he received in April 2008 with helping him to obtain stimulus funding. The $25,000 STTM grant funded Renthal's background studies on the insect pheromone receptor, giving him preliminary data to include in his proposal to the NIH. Learn more about the Proof of Concept program at the STTM Web site.

Lopez-Ribot, a medical mycologist specializing in the fungus Candida albicans, was awarded a $550,000 grant to study biofilms formed by the fungus that causes infections called candidiasis. Candidiasis can be life-threatening for immuno-suppressed patients and is the third most frequent infection in hospitals in the United States and abroad. Biofilms are microbial communities attached to surfaces that help an infection progress by providing microorganisms a safe place from which to invade tissue, start new infection sites and resist treatment efforts. These surfaces can include medical equipment such as catheters and other types of implanted biomaterials.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 is an economic recovery package to help states stabilize budgets and stimulate economic growth. Stimulus funding will be allocated, in part, to modernize health care, improve schools, modernize infrastructure and invest in clean-energy technologies.