Photo of Josefina del Mármol

Josefina del Mármol, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

Our lab studies the molecular mechanisms of sensory transduction, seeking to understand how animals detect the physical and chemical cues from their environment and transform them into cellular signals. In particular, we focus on the sense of smell in insect vectors of disease.

Animals rely on their sense of smell for a large repertoire of behaviors, which in human-targeting insects such as mosquitoes includes finding a human host to bite and secure a bloodmeal. Odors, such as the smell of humans, are composed of combinations of millions of physically and chemically diverse odorant compounds, that a mosquito must detect and discriminate with fewer than two hundred olfactory receptors. How can this small number of receptors underlie the immense discriminative capacity of the olfactory system? In the del Mármol lab, we use cryo-electron microscopy and a variety of biochemical, electrophysiological, and functional assays to dissect the structure and function of insect olfactory receptors involved in the detection of complex odors.

In addition, insect vectors transmit deadly diseases (such as malaria, dengue fever, and Chagas disease) that take the lives of almost a million people every year and disproportionately impact the developing world. The lack of structural knowledge of insect olfactory receptors has severely hindered drug-discovery efforts to develop effective repellents that can curb the spread of these diseases. Therefore, research in our lab has the two-fold aim of uncovering the basic principles governing the transduction of chemical signals, and using structural insights into insect olfactory receptors to develop novel pharmacological tools for the containment of insect-borne diseases.

Dr. del Mármol received a Licenciatura degree in Biology from the University of Buenos Aires and then joined the laboratory of Roderick MacKinnon at the Rockefeller University for her graduate studies. There, she received a PhD in Molecular Neurobiology and Biophysics with a predoctoral fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute studying the molecular basis of the sense of touch. After a short postdoctoral stay at UC Berkeley, she joined the laboratory of Vanessa Ruta at the Rockefeller University to study the structural basis of odor recognition. In 2022, Dr. del Mármol joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School as Assistant Professor. Dr. del Mármol is the recipient of a NIH MOSAIC K99/R00 Pathway to Independence award, the AChems Polak Young Investigator Award and the Tri-I Breakout Prize for Junior Investigators.

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