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Radamés J.B. Cordero, PhD

  • Research Associate

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PhD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2012
MS, Albert Einstein School of Medicine, 2008
BS, University of Puerto Rico - Arecibo, 2005


Dr. Cordero is a Research Associate in the laboratory of Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D. Professor & Chair of the MMI Department. His research utilizes biophysical methods to study how melanization alters fungal biology and protects against environmental stressors associated with climate change (i.e. temperature, radiation, and humidity). Melanins are present in all life forms, serving in visual perception, physical and chemical protection, and radiation energy capture/translation. By understanding the physicochemical properties of fungal melanins, Dr. Cordero hopes to learn about the ecology and climate adaptation in fungi, plants and animals and to exploit melanin’s unique properties for the development of new biotechnologies to improve human living, sustainability, and evolution.

Honors and Awards

In 2005, Dr. Cordero received a B.S. with distinction in Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo, received his M.S. with distinction in Biochemistry and his PhD. in Microbiology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NYC, in 2009 and 2012, respectively. His doctoral research work describes the structure, dynamics, and physicochemical properties of the Cryptococcus polysaccharide capsule; an important virulence factor required for causing disease in mammals. In 2013, he received the Young Talent Attraction Award to continue his research on biophysical microbiology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he studied virulence synergism between Cryptococcus and Histoplasma in a murine co-infection model. While in Brazil, he developed an interest in studying scholarly communication practices and bibliometry of the scientific literature. Dr. Cordero joined JHSPH as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2015 to study biology and physics of fungal melanins.

  • fungal melanin
  • polysaccharide capsule
  • microbial pathogenesis
  • Cryptococcus
  • radioprotection
  • energy budgets
  • thermal biology
  • infrared imaging
  • color-mediated thermoregulation
  • thermography
  • infrared camera
  • energy transduction
  • heat
  • temperature
  • solar
  • radiation shielding
  • energy storage
  • photovoltaics
  • scholarly communication practices

Melanin is what makes human skin black, brown, reddish or yellowish, but this class of biological pigments are more than coloring agents. Found in all kingdoms of life, melanin provides photoprotection from dangerous solar radiation functioning both as a sunscreen and antioxidant by (1) absorbing and dissipating radiation energy in the form of heat, and (2) neutralizing free radicals caused by ionizing radiation. This radiation-to-heat conversion underlies their role in thermoregulation which is essential for ‘cold-blooded’ organisms that rely on radiation, convection, and conduction to maintain healthy body temperatures. Recent studies with black fungi have shown that melanin can also convert ionizing radiation into chemical and electrical energy inducing fungal growth and metabolic activity (radiosynthesis). The ability of melanin to conduct electricity is perhaps one of the most exciting properties of these biopolymers, inspiring new applications in bioelectronics and other sustainable technologies. The structure of melanin remains largely unknown, yet its remarkable structural stability and strong affinity to water, metals, and other compounds make it resistant to a wide range of mechanical and chemical environmental stressors. The widespread presence of melanins in biology, unique properties, and diverse functions implies that melanization possesses represent ancient and conserved adaptation mechanisms to changes in climate, making it significant for the evolution of life on Earth. Black fungi are notorious for inhabiting the most extreme environments on the planet such as Earth poles, desserts, hydrothermal vents, and radioactively polluted areas.

  • Microbial melanins for radioprotection and bioremediation Cordero RJB, Vij R, Casadevall A. Microb Biotechnol. 2017 Sep;10(5):1186-1190. doi: 10.1111/1751-7915.12807. Epub 2017 Aug 14. Microbial melanins provide a biocompatible and scalable approach for bioremediation and radioprotection technologies due to their physicochemical properties.
  • Melanin for space travel radioprotection. Cordero RJB. Environ Microbiol. 2017 Jul;19(7):2529-2532. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13753. Epub 2017 May 29. Melanins are special biomolecules capable of shield- ing from ionizing radiation, a property that could be exploited for interplanetary manned space travel.
  • Melanin, Radiation, and Energy Transduction in Fungi Casadevall A, Cordero RJB, Bryan R, Nosanchuk J, Dadachova E. Microbiol Spectr. 2017 Mar;5(2). doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0037-2016. Review. Melanin pigments are found in many diverse fungal species, where they serve a variety of functions that promote fitness and cell survival. Melanotic fungi inhabit some of the most extreme habitats on earth such as the damaged nuclear reactor at Chernobyl and the highlands of Antarctica, both of which are high-radiation environments. Melanotic fungi migrate toward radioactive sources, which appear to enhance their growth. This phenomenon, combined with the known capacities of melanin to absorb a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation and transduce this radiation into other forms of energy, raises the possibility that melanin also functions in harvesting such energy for biological usage. The ability of melanotic fungi to harness electromagnetic radiation for physiological processes has enormous implications for biological energy flows in the biosphere and for exobiology, since it provides new mechanisms for survival in extraterrestrial conditions. Whereas some features of the way melanin-related energy transduction works can be discerned by linking various observations and circumstantial data, the mechanistic details remain to be discovered.