Campus: CSU, Bakersfield -- July 25, 2001
CSU Bakersfield Researcher Earns Accolades
Alexander Candia went from satisfying people's hunger to satisfying
his own thirst for knowledge, and along the way became one of the top
researchers at California State University, Bakersfield.
Candia is a senior chemistry major who plans to continue his studies to
eventually become a physician's assistant. His work with chemistry professor
Roy LaFever, focusing on natural substances of the horehound plant, earned
him first place awards in both the CSUB Student Research Competition and
also the regional research competition at CSU Fresno.
Horehound, a member of the mint family, has been used for centuries to
relieve respiratory and bronchial ailments, and a compound known as marrubiin
has been implicated as the active constituent. Marrubiin is a member of
a family of natural products known as diterpenes, and shares similarities
with the anti-cancer diterpene taxol. Earlier research indicates marrubiin
has some interesting biological effects including anti-viral and antibiotic
activities. Extracts from the plant also repel a number of insect pests
making it a promising lead for use as an insecticide.
LaFever set out to find how and where marrubiin is produced in the plant,
and last year found what he was looking for.
"There are specialized structures on mint leaves that produce the
aromatic oils," LaFever said. "So we looked at the horehound
plant to see if it had these specific leaf structures, and found that
The leaves have a fuzzy texture to them, he knew, and found what he was
looking for below the forest of hairs on the leaf. "Underneath the
fur are clusters of cells that include a cylindrical layer where the compound
is made," he said. These structures are only visible with the aid
of a microscope and are roughly 100-times smaller than a flea. "We
developed a technique to isolate the specialized structures and analyze
the contents directly. Using the technique it was found that the marrubiin
was indeed produced and stored in these structures known as secretory
"We not only know that marrubiin is made there, but we can also isolate
the proteins and enzymes from the cells that are responsible for making
"The ability to isolate these glands in relatively pure form is an
Marrubiin is related to the fragrant aromas in mint known as terpenoids,
but is chemically distinct, he said. Marrubiin is also related to taxol,
found in the Western Yew tree, which is "used to treat ovarian cancer.
When we find the gene that produces marrubiin, we'll be able to produce
it in large quantity and begin to modify its structure in hopes of developing
taxol-like anti-cancer activity and improved antibiotics."
That's where Candia came in. Since LaFever and previous student researchers
had discovered where the marrubiin was produced, Candia's task was to
figure out how to produce more of it.
"What I did was manipulate two metal ions - magnesium and manganese
- that are responsible for the plant's metabolism," Candia said.
His experiment involved feeding one collection of plants Miracle Grow
fertilizer, and another the fertilizer supplemented with magnesium and
manganese. The sample treated with both metals had enhanced growth and
a significant increase in marrubiin production. We were able to increase
the marrubiin production in treated plants by a factor of 30. That is
the treated plants produced 30 time more marrubiin than those without
the additional magnesium and manganese"
And while Candia is now able to mass-produce marrubiin, at one point he
was responsible for mass-producing meals for banquets. "I went to
chef school originally," the 36-year-old said. "I was a chef
and worked at Bakersfield Country Club."
But by the mid-1990s, he yearned to do something else, and in 1996 enrolled
at CSUB, taking one class per quarter. "My wife finally said let's
bite the bullet, go full time. Now I work weekends and go to school
during the week.
"I actually started in pre-med. I loved being in the lab. It was
like being in the kitchen. Since I was involved in the Chemistry Club
I was working on a project. Dr. LaFever told me I had aptitude in the
lab and suggested I apply for a scholarship. I did, and got the scholarship,
and now I get to work in the lab all the time. I love to work in the lab,
and can't believe how fast the time goes."
LaFever is delighted with Candia's success. Not only does it help advance
the research LaFever has been pursuing for several years, but also it
helps Candia in his pursuit of a career.
"Alex has really done a first-rate job," LaFever said. "He
is a very determined student who has developed a keen interest in biochemical
research, and possesses a variety of laboratory skills normally learned
in graduate studies. I am very pleased that Alex has been awarded a Student
Research Scholarship for the 2001-02 academic year. His upcoming research
will focus on manipulating metals supplied to yew trees to evaluate taxol
production under different conditions. This is an exciting project that
fits well with the on-going effort and extends our previous findings."