The San Diego Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) has awarded its 2014 Distinguished Scientist Award to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego marine chemist William Fenical, adding a new honor to a career of scientific achievements in the search for new drugs from ocean-based sources.
Fenical was honored at a banquet on Oct. 21 at the UC San Diego Faculty Club, where he also gave a presentation on the immensity of new chemical resources in the world’s oceans and a depiction of several new drugs in development in his lab at Scripps.
“The award recognizes (Fenical’s) long-time research efforts in marine natural product chemistry and his interest in creating new drugs,” said Tom Beattie, San Diego ACS section award committee chair. “Also, it acknowledges his mentorship of dozens of young researchers throughout his career. The example he sets is an admirable one for others to emulate.”
Because terrestrial sources of new drugs have virtually been exhausted, researchers are looking to the oceans for novel sources to treat modern human illnesses and diseases, from cancer to the growing problems associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A native of Chicago, Fenical first became enamored with the ocean during family trips to Florida as a boy. His education included a bachelor’s degree from California State Polytechnic University, a master’s from San Jose State University, and a Ph.D. from UC Riverside. Looking to blend his fondness of the ocean with a career in chemistry, Fenical obtained a position as an assistant research chemist at Scripps Oceanography in 1973. He founded the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at Scripps in 1998.
Fenical and his lab members explore the oceans for novel compounds from as near as the waters off La Jolla to tropical destinations and exotic deep-sea environments. Fenical has studied the role of chemical defense in protecting marine organisms and the corresponding compounds that could lead to novel therapeutics in human diseases.
“These are novel, unique organisms that have a different genetic composition (than terrestrial organisms). Unique genes equal the production of unique compounds,” Fenical said in an interview for Scripps Explorations magazine. “The oceans are extraordinarily biologically complex. Potentially it could take several hundred years to fully understand and develop their medical resources.”
The San Diego Section of ACS has awarded Distinguished Scientist honors since 1992 to a prominent list of regional chemists. These include UC San Diego’s Roger Tsien, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Kim Prather, an atmospheric chemistry professor who holds appointments in the UC San Diego Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as at Scripps Oceanography.
— Mario C. Aguilera