Michael Pluth Highlights

The research of chemist Michael Pluth and his laboratory revolves around hydrogen sulfide. This chemical, once known only as a highly toxic environmental pollutant, in fact serves as a biological signaling compound (a facilitator of communication between cells) in most living organisms. In the human body, it performs a variety of functions essential to health, including keeping blood pressure in check. While the biological importance of hydrogen sulfide is clear in many organisms, it is not yet understood how or why hydrogen sulfide functions the way it does, or whether it may be used for pharmaceutical or therapeutic applications. Pluth and his lab are tackling these questions from several angles. He says, “part of my lab is trying to develop tools for imaging it in a biological context, part of my lab is trying to develop tools to deliver sulfide in different biological contexts, and the other part is trying to understand how sulfide reacts with different biological molecules.”
Pluth is best known for creating new techniques for imaging hydrogen sulfide in biological environments; probes that his lab have produced allow scientists to detect and measure precise amounts of hydrogen sulfide in samples by producing a glow or purple substance where the chemical is present. To inspire his research, Pluth finds it helpful to read carefully researched studies that go against the grain of traditional scientific thought. Studies like these can “jolt you out of your daily thought process,” he says and “bring up a lot of good questions.”
In his own work, Pluth finds the interdisciplinary aspects to be the most exciting. He says, “We range from dabbling in materials all the way to computational chemistry, to growing cells in our lab and imaging them, so I think students get a lot of exposure to different techniques, and different parts of science […] We don’t say ‘we don’t do that type of science, we can’t answer that question,’ – we can evolve to learn what we need to learn to answer different questions.”