Shirley A. Pomponi, PhD
2022 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Shirley A. Pomponi, PhD
Dr. Shirley A. Pomponi, ocean explorer, aquanaut and marine biologist, was recipient of the Society for In Vitro Biology 2022 Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Pomponi was recognized for her scientific and humanitarian career that spans decades of pioneering contributions, scientific advances and contributions to marine invertebrate biotechnology, biological oceanography and international marine policy.
Dr. Pomponi’s scientific contributions include, but are not limited to:
- Identifying the ultra-structural mechanisms of coral skeleton bioerosion by marine sponge;
- Developed models to test evolution & the impact of climate change on coral reef sponges;
- Developed a 3D sponge cell system and 3D printing technology for sponge habitat restoration; developed & immortalized first marine invertebrate (sponge) cell line;
- Optimized sponge cell culture media, cryopreservation & laboratory testing standards;
- Identified and developed in vitro methodology for bioactive sponge metabolites and pharmaceutical compounds;
- Led discovery, pre-clinical development and licensing of sponge-derived metabolites with antitumor and immunosuppressive properties.
- Applied hybridoma technology to develop in vitro production of marine natural products with therapeutic relevance.
Dr. Pomponi is Research Professor, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Harbor Branch, Associate Director of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology (CIOERT) and Special Professor of Marine Biotechnology, Wageningen University, Netherlands. She previously served as President, CEO, and Executive Director, FAU Harbor Branch and Consultant/Group Leader, SeaPharm, Inc., Fort Pierce, FL. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in Biological Oceanography from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and an undergraduate degree in Biology from the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey.
Dr. Pomponi served on the President’s Ocean Exploration panel that resulted in the 2001 Congressional authorization for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Congressional funding for critical marine science research to date. This funding led to Dr. Pomponi’s collection of more than 30,000 marine invertebrate and algal specimens, which supports the FAU Harbor Branch’s marine natural product drug discovery program. On Dr. Pomponi’s Lifetime Award, James Sullivan, Ph.D., Executive Director of FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute issued a press release that “Her decades of discoveries and contributions in the fields of marine science and biotechnology have helped to better understand our oceans and marine life and have enabled our scientists and others to harness the power of marine natural products to develop medicines from the sea to address some of the most serious diseases globally.”
Dr. Pomponi’s scientific publications include >100 peer-reviewed articles, presentations, and the development of licensed and >30 patented marine invertebrate (sponge) cell lines and pharmaceutical compounds from the sea. She serves as ad hoc reviewer for numerous prestigious journals and granting agencies to include: Frontiers in Marine Science, National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institutes of Health, European Union, Schmidt Ocean Institute, Scientific Reports, Peer J, Invertebrate Biology and Coral Reefs. Her awards include induction into the National Academy of Inventors, Women Divers Hall of Fame and Monmouth University Champion of the Oceans. She has received the highest honors and awards from both her undergraduate and graduate universities to include the Mother Xavier Award Leadership in Ocean and Coastal Research, Florida Atlantic University Researcher of the Year and Iron Arrow Honor Society.
Dr. Pomponi co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) committee (2018-2021) on “Biological Collections: Their Past, Present, and Future Contributions and Options for Sustaining Them.” She also served as a member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advisory Committee (2016-2021) for Geosciences, which provided advice, recommendations and oversight for the NSF geosciences research and education portfolio. From 2013 to 2015, she co-chaired the NASEM study on ocean science priorities for the next decade, “Sea Change: 2015 – 2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences,” which provided recommendations on research, facilities, and funding priorities for NSF’s ocean science program.
During her career, Dr. Pomponi has been at the frontiers of Marine Science and Oceanography. Highlights include: co-science lead National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) mission to the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the ocean;-science team of first US research vessel allowed into Cuba in 40 years; all-female science crew member in NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), in the Aquarius underwater habitat off Key Largo, Florida. In addition, she has led over 30 research expeditions and >300 dives to depths as great as 3,000 feet in the famed Johnson Sea-Link manned submersibles.
An active and contributing member of the SIVB since 2003, Dr. Pomponi has served as: Reviewing Editor, In Vitro Cellular & Development Biology, Animal; member Invertebrate, Vertebrate and Cellular Toxicology Sections (now IVACS); Program Committee, Scientific Advisory, Convenor, Chair/Co-Chair World Congress, International Conference on Invertebrate and Fish Culture, Congress on In Vitro Biology Invertebrate Section. Dr. Pomponi is Fellow Invertebrate Biology and received the SIVB Senior Investigator Award for Excellence in Research, Contributions and Achievements in the Field of Marine and Comparative Biology.
Pomponi Laboratory Left to right: Megan Conkling, PhD student, Florida Atlantic University; Cassady Dougan, MS, Florida Atlantic University; Elizabeth Urban-Gedamke, MS, Florida Atlantic University; Don Liberatore, Johnson Sea-Link, Chief Submersible Pilot (Retired); Dr Shirley A Pomponi; Awardee; Claudia op den Dries, MS Wageningen University, Netherlands; Jans van der Heijden, MS Wageningen University, Netherlands; and Marcela Loy Martinez, MS student, MS Wageningen University, Netherlands
The Lifetime Achievement Award (LTAA) is the highest award given by the SIVB to recognize scientists who have achieved academic excellence in their field of study and made significant contributions in the advancement of in vitro biology. Dr. Pomponi’s has broken barriers and set standards for the collection of marine invertebrate specimens, development of crucial marine invertebrate cell lines and drug discovery. Her legacy is not only to the field of in vitro biology, but the pioneering, scientific advances and contributions to marine invertebrate biotechnology, biological oceanography and international marine policy.
The emeritus scientists that nominated and supported Dr. Pomponi’s Lifetime Achievement Award include: Dr. Cynthia Goodman, Dr. Baruch Rinkevich, Dr. Denry Sato, Dr. Klaske Schippers, Dr. Sandra Schneider, Dr. Alda Vidrich, Dr. Amy Wright, Barbara Kavanaugh, Amanda Nickerson. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute & Harbor Branch Oceanographic Foundation generously sponsored this Lifetime Achievement event for Dr. Pomponi
Sandra L Schneider, DrPH, EMBA, Fellow Cellular Toxicology
Cynthia Lenz Goodman, PhD, Fellow Invertebrate Biology