Spotlight on Scientists: Mariana Barboza


By Natalie Telis

Since December 2009, the Lebrilla Lab, a key collaborative unit of the Foods For Health Institute, has published three papers, has three more papers in press, and has filed a patent for the prebiotic effects of glycans and oligosaccharides. However, these milestones of achievement are only a few on the path to a marketable end-product with applications for human health, says Mariana Barboza, a postdoctoral scholar in the Lebrilla Lab.

Dr. Barboza began her postgraduate studies in La Plata City in Argentina, receiving a MS in biological sciences with an emphasis in zoology. She continued her studies in Buenos Aires, ultimately receiving a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biotechnology. “I was always interested in doing research in what causes diseases,” said Dr. Barboza. As an undergraduate student, she had an internship with a virology lab studying the glycoproteins of a virus. Ever since then, Dr. Barboza’s passion has been glycoprotein profiling: “I call myself a glycobiologist,” she said.

Her work with Dr. Lebrilla in the Lebrilla Lab has focused on glycoprofiling: using cutting-edge mass spectrometry techniques to analyze oligosaccharides and characterize their effects on probiotic bacteria commonly residing in the gastrointestinal tract in humans, like bifidobacteria or, more recently, bacteroides. One paper published in 2007 details her novel method of quantification of prebiotic effects of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs); others have detailed the effects of other oligiosaccharides, such as FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides) and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides).

Dr. Barboza is also in charge of projects to analyze human milk glycoproteins; her latest work has been developing strategies to isolate proteins and characterize glycosylation over different periods of lactation. Dr. Barboza has been part of several of the multidisciplinary collaborations that characterizes the programs of the Foods For Health Institute. She has developed collaborations with Professors Zhu, Raybould, and Weimer, all FFHI affiliates, in order to further her research.

Her latest paper focuses on GOS consumption by probiotics residing in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics appear to have demonstrable preferences for certain oligosaccharides; some consume GOS more than others. Her data on probiotic GOS consumption can be used to enrich particular probiotic populations in the gastrointestinal tract, which could have immunomodulatory effects. “There are applications for [the health of] infants, the elderly, and adults with certain diseases,” she explains. Her ultimate goal is to use her research to create health products which could benefit vulnerable populations, such as those described above.

Ultimately, says Dr. Barboza, research is about being part of a scientific community working towards a common goal. She states that the most rewarding part of research has been developing real connections with other researchers and using these connections to foster research. “Multidisciplinary research has been a very rich experience,” she says.  To learn more about her latest work and access her paper, click here.