News & Events

Faculty Spotlight on David Gruber

April 15, 2011 | Faculty

Dr. David Gruber illuminating a coral reef with blue light (450-500 nm) on Little Cayman, January 2011

Dr. David Gruber joined the faculty of the Department of Natural Sciences at Baruch in Fall 2008 and has forged a solid foundation within the department, developing a number of collaborations with other CUNY faculty, commercializing inventions, securing numerous external grants, teaching courses at the Macaulay Honors College, and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. His research is centered on a unique family of fluorescent molecules from coral reefs and recently he has focused his sights on a new target, deep water coral reefs — where technical limitation have, until recently, left these areas less studied than the surface of the moon.

David claims one of his favorite quotes to be from the French biologist Jacques Monod: “Anything found to be true of E. coli must also be true of elephants.” To that end, he has pursued an interdisciplinary career, exploring biological oceanography, microbiology, molecular biology, fish behavior, tropical forestry, environmental management and journalism between his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

But, it was his postdoctoral appointment in the Brown University Division of Biology and Medicine that put his future research into focus. Here, David began work in the development of fluorescent protein probes—green fluorescent protein, or GFP, was the subject of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry—proteins found in some marine invertebrates, such as corals and jellyfish, that naturally fluoresce. Since the discovery in 1992 of their utility in molecular biology, approximately 30,000 scientific publications have utilized GFP as a reporter molecule. Only about 20 of the roughly 130 fluorescent proteins that have been isolated, are regularly applied in molecular biology. To date, Gruber and his colleagues have described nearly 30 FPs, including a novel fluorescent protein coupled to phosphorylation, an important on-off switch in many crucial cellular processes. This discovery has lead to a patent that CUNY is actively marketing as a platform for cancer drug development. This discovery also led to David becoming one of the first Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Postdoctoral Entrepreneur Fellows. This program was launched to better position entrepreneurial early-career scientists with intensive mentoring and coaching and Dr. Gruber has since founded the biotechnology company, Lucidicor. In January 2011, the company was infused by a National Science Foundation SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant.

David currently has NSF funding to study the differences and interrelationships between the deep corals (> 300 feet) and shallow corals. Dr. Gruber is actively researching corals off Little Cayman Island, Maroantsetra Madagascar, Eilat, Israel, and Exuma, Bahamas. These localities all support corals found at both depths. His team will examine molecular and physiological differences between these populations, and extract and characterize fluorescent proteins from deep corals. To facilitate these efforts, David has an NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) award to develop an ROV (remote operated vehicle) to sample and photograph deep water corals and he plans to embark on National Geographic Society/Waitt Foundation expedition this summer to search for the elusive far-red fluorescent protein.

David has dedicated himself not only to exploring biodiversity and evolutionary innovation, but also to communicating his findings to non-scientists. His recent Communicating Science to Public Audiences grant from the NSF has enabled David to build a multimedia museum exhibit presenting biofluoresence and bioluminescence in coral reefs, and he is currently collaborating with
the National Film Board of Canada to develop a 3D IMAX film on these mysterious pathways for younger audiences. He is also working with cutting- edge visual and performance artists Janaina Tschape and Kristin McArdle in an effort to strengthen our connection with nature in more sustainable and illuminating ways.

David is the co-author with his long-time collaborator Dr. Vincent Pieribone (Yale) of “Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence” and serves as scientific advisor and producer for WNYC Studio 360′s “Science and Creativity” series. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Nature Medicine, and The Best American Science Writing 2007. In addition to his appointment at CUNY, David is a Visiting Scientist at Brown University and a Research Associate of the American Museum of Natural History and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute.