Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Kristen E. Whalen
Kristen E. Whalen's photoKristen E. Whalen
Research Scientist
Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry

Contact Information:
Work: 508 289 3627
Building: Watson Building 111

Mailing Address:
Mailstop 51
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, MA 02543


     My expertise ranges from cellular/molecular biology, biochemistry, toxicology, physiology and marine natural product isolation. I have published eleven scientific research publications, have given over 30 scientific presentations, lectures, webinars, and posters; and serve as a reviewer for 16 peer-reviewed scientific journals and governmental funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation and an invited Editor for Frontiers of Microbiology.

     I have a broad interest in organismal physiological responses that regulate chemical tolerance (i.e., anthropogenic and marine natural products), and windows of cellular vulnerability of marine organisms to environmental chemical stress. My work aims to understand the molecular and cellular adaptations organisms use to cope with chemical threats in an ecological context. My research program takes an integrative approach using molecular, cellular, biochemical and metabolomic techniques to address how marine organisms have adapted and respond to their chemical environment.

Download my CV by clicking the link above.

Research Directions

I. Ecologically Inspired Drug Discovery

     Wanting to build on my interests in cellular defense mechanisms and marine natural product drug discovery, I returned to WHOI in 2012 and am leading a research program I have developed to identify new, small molecule, efflux pump inhibitors (EPIs) from marine microbial natural products to treat antibiotic resistant Gram-negative bacteria.


National Institute of Health - National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (R21). Discovery and development of RND pump inhibitors from marine microbial sources. I led the authorship of the proposal with support of T. Mincer. July 2015 - July 2017.

     Recently, my efforts have been successful in identifying efflux pump inhibitors from marine natural product libraries to treat multidrug resistant Gram-negative pathogens. My research has lead to a recent paper published in the Journal of Natural Products and a NIH Grant.

Her work has been featured in a recent issue of Proto Magazine. The story is entitled "Testing the Waters".

Enhancement of Antibiotic Activity against Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria by the Efflux Pump Inhibitor 3,4-Dibromopyrrole-2,5-dione Isolated from a Pseudoalteromonas sp., K.Whalen, K. Poulson, R. Deering, D. Rowley, T. Mincer (2015) Journal of Natural Products (DOI:10.1021/np500775e)

     In April 2015, I was invited to present at the Early Stage Life Sciences Technology Conference XI at Merck Research Laboratories to discuss the technology I have developed while at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This forum showcased 16 life science technologies developed at research institutions and recently formed companies to an audience of angel investors, venture capitalists and corporate investors.

     I was awarded the WHOI Ignition Grant for 2013 for my research project aimed at developing marine natural products to treat multidrug resistance. This funding has led to a provisional patent submission in July 2015.

II. Cellular Chemoprotection

     My interest in transporter biology led her to develop new methods for immunolocalization of multidrug transporters in sea urchin embryos using Super-Resolution microscopy. This technology has facilitated the characterization of transporter positioning during efflux initiation in the embryo.

She was awarded the 2012 ABC Young Investigator Award by the colleagues at the 4th FEBS Special Meeting on ABC Transporter proteins: From Multidrug Resistance to Genetic Diseases for her work examining the interplay of actin dynamics on transporter function in the developing embryo.

III. Infochemical-mediated trophic interactions: the varied roles of cell signaling compounds

     A newly emerging picture of the microbial loop in marine systems suggest that bacteria are not merely passive recipients of dissolved organic matter from phytoplankton exudate. Rather, heterotrophic bacteria can mediate the flow of DOM by actively producing soluble algicidal compounds. Working with collaborators at University of Georgia (Dr. Liz Harvey) and the Univeristy of Rhode Island (Dr. David Rowley), I isolated a quorum sensing precursor molecules produced by the globally distributed marine heterotrophic bacterium (Pseudoalteromonas piscicida) that induces mortality in the bloom-forming coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi, a major player in  global carbon-based primary production. My work is helping to establish a new paradigm for microbial oceanography by uncovering the underlying principles that govern major biogeochemical cycles in the ocean.

Media on Kristen's Research

Media on Drug Discovery:

Media on Kristen's ProjectWHOI campaign: https://youtube/pXXWoOk9Rr8

Cover Art

Super-resolution micrograph of the surface of a sea urchin embryo 60 min after fertilization. The multidrug transporter ABCB1a (magenta) has moved to the tips of the microvilli (green, actin), thereby establishing efflux activity. See the article by Whalen et al. 2012 of this issue of MBoC. (Image: Kristen Whalen, Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

Crowdfunding for Drug Discovery

Kristen recently concluded a WHOI crowdfunding campagin entitled "New Weapons Against Superbugs".  Check it out:

Kristen discussed her work on ecologically inspired drug discovery on WCAI - Cape and Islands NPR on Living Lab.  To hear this interview, click here.

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