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WPI Scientist to Serve as Program Director at the National Science Foundation

June 3, 2009
Jose M. Arguello

WORCESTER, Mass.– June 3, 2009 -- Jose Arguello, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been selected to serve a one-year appointment as a program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C. Starting July 1, Arguello will work in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) within the NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, whose mission is to enable discoveries that help advance our basic understanding of life.

The NSF employs scientists, engineers, and educators on rotational assignments to further its mission of supporting the entire spectrum of science and engineering research and education. As a program officer in the MCB, Arguello will direct funds to support research and related activities that contribute to a fundamental understanding of living systems at the molecular, subcellular, and cellular levels.

"This is a significant honor for Professor Arguello and well-deserved recognition for his pioneering research on membrane proteins for more than two decades,” said John A. Orr, WPI’s provost and senior vice president. “It is also a notable indication of the strength of the research emerging from WPI’s growing life sciences and bioengineering cluster. With more than 30 faculty members from five departments, most of them working in the state-of-the-art Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, this group is making frequent and important contributions."

In his own research, Arguello studies the structure and function of proteins that transport heavy metals in cell membranes. Micronutrient metals such as copper, zinc, cobalt, and iron play a number of fundamental roles in living organisms. For example, as part of proteins they assist in maintaining structure and confer catalytic activity. They also participate in the transport of oxygen in the blood, the synthesis of sugars in plants, and the transcription of DNA, and contribute to the virulence of pathogenic microorganisms. Because of the importance of these basic biological functions, a better understanding of the mechanisms of heavy metal transport has implications for the treatment of a host of diseases, for human and animal nutrition, and for the bioremediation of heavy metal pollution.

One focus of Arguello’s research is the mechanisms by which heavy metals, after transport into cells, are delivered across membranes into various cell compartments--a process at the heart of micronutrient metal distribution in humans and other living organisms. In a 2008 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Arguello and his research team described their discovery of the molecular mechanism by which copper ions are transferred from a chaperone protein to metal binding sites on the transport protein in the cell membrane. They showed that the presumed complex, multistep process is in fact a direct, one-step transfer. The characteristics of this mechanism can be extrapolated to explain how cells maintain the appropriate micronutrient levels required for life. The work has been funded by major awards from the NSF.

A member of the WPI faculty since 1996, Argüelloreceived a degree in biological chemistry from the National University of Cordoba and a PhD in biological sciences from the National University of Río Cuarto in Argentina. He completed postdoctoral work in the Department of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania and in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Cincinnati, and received a Research Development Award for Minority Faculty from the National Institutes of Health. He has published nearly 50 scientific articles in refereed journals.