Marcy Balunas, PhD

Associate Professor, Microbiology & Immunology
Associate Professor, Medicinal Chemistry



Dr. Balunas received a dual B.A./B.A. degree in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Rochester, a M.S. degree in Plant Ecology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a Ph.D. degree in Pharmacognosy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She conducted her postdoctoral research on marine natural products drug discovery at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego in conjunction with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama. Dr. Balunas began her independent career at the University of Connecticut Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.


Areas of Interest

Dr. Balunas’s research program focuses on interaction-driven molecule discovery from host-microbe symbioses. We seek a fundamental understanding of how the metabolome mediates host-microbiota interactions, aiming to discover novel bioactive metabolites involved in chemical communication between eukaryotic hosts, their bacterial associates, and pathogenic organisms. Host-microbe symbioses are becoming an increasingly important focus in biomedical research as the human microbiota is now recognized as a major contributor to health and disease. Small molecule interactions in host-microbe symbioses play an essential role in the complex molecular dialogue that occurs between bacterial symbionts and their eukaryotic hosts. Given that these host-microbe symbioses have naturally evolved to select for biologically active bacteria, they provide a source of specialized metabolites likely to have potent medicinal activity and thus be poised for future preclinical drug development. By integrating biology-driven metabolomics with isolation and identification of bioactive molecules, as well as bioassay design and implementation, the Balunas research group is making significant discoveries in microbiome science, leading to new applications for human health and disease.

Honors & Awards

2018     American Society of Pharmacognosy Matt Suffness AWard

2012     American Society of Pharmacognosy D. John Faulkner Award

Published Articles or Reviews

Wang, M.; Jarmusch, A.K.; Vargas, F.; Aksenov, A.A.; Gauglitz, J.M.; Weldon, K.; Petras, D.; da Silva, R.; Quinn, R.; Melnik, A.V.; van der Hooft, J.J.J.; Caraballo Rodríguez, A.M.; Nothias, L.F.; Aceves, C.M.; Panitchpakdi, M.; Brown, E.; Di Ottavio, F.; Sikora, N.; Elijah, E.O.; Labarta-Bajo, L.; Gentry, E.C.; Shalapour, S.; Kyle, K.E.; Puckett, S.P.; Watrous, J.D.; Carpenter, C.S.; Bouslimani, A.; Ernst, M.; Swafford, A.D.; Zúñiga, E.I.; Balunas, M.J.; Klassen, J.L.; Loomba, R.; Knight, R.; Bandeira, N.; Dorrestein, P.C. MASST: A web-based basic mass spectrometry search tool for molecules to search public data. Nat. Biotechnol., 2020, 38, 23-26. PMCID: PMC7236533

Tan, K.C.; Pham, T.X.; Lee, Y.; Lee, J.-Y.; Balunas, M.J.*, Identification of apocarotenoids as chemical markers of in vitro anti-inflammatory activity for spirulina supplements. J. Ag. Food Chem., 2021, 69, 12674-12685. PMID: 34672564

Clark, K.E.; Capper, A.; Liu, W.-T.; Fenner, A.M.; Almanza, A.; Johns, T.; Dorrestein, P.C.; Paul, V.P.; Capson, T.L.; Balunas, M.J.* Sequestration and cyanobacterial diet preferences in the opisthobranch molluscs Dolabrifera nicaraguana and Stylocheilus rickettsi. Front. Mar. Sci., 2021, 8, 766282. 

Caraballo-Rodríguez, A.M.; Puckett, S.P.; Kyle, K.E.; Petras, D.; da Silva, R.; Nothias, L.-F.; Ernst, M.; van der Hooft, J.J.J.; Tripathi, A.; Wang, M.; Balunas, M.J.; Klassen, J.L.*; Dorrestein, P.C.* Chemical gradients of plant substrates in an Atta texana fungus garden. mSystems, 2021, 6, e00601-21. PMCID: PMC8409729

Jin, Y.; Schladetsch, M.A.; Huang, X.; Balunas, M.J.; Wiemer, A.J.* Stepping forward in antibody-drug conjugate development. Pharmacol. Ther., 2022, 229, 107917. PMCID: PMC870258