Research Group

Biodiscovery for health

My group is interested in the bioactivity screening and elucidation of molecular mechanism of natural products from aquatic ecosystems (freshwater, estuarine, marine). Here, we use a combination of phenotypic assays and physiologically relevant screening models, namely zebrafish larvae or advanced cell culture techniques.

The focus is to discover novel natural products for metabolic diseases (obesity, diabetes, steatosis).
The main organism will be cyanobacteria, actinobacteria, microalgae or macroalgae, but also other marine organism. Proof of concept of promising compounds will be done in relevant disease models, in particular using the zebrafish model, and the molecular mechanism of action will be deciphered by applying various molecular methodologies. The aim of this group is the valorization of aquatic/marine resources for human diseases, and in particular for metabolic diseases.

Principal Investigator

Team Leader

Ralph Urbatzka is a principal researcher at CIIMAR, and team leader of “Biodiscovery for Health”. He graduated in Biology in 2002 in Cologne, Germany and received his PhD in 2007 in Molecular Biology from the Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany. His current research interests focus on the bioactivity screening and elucidation of molecular mechanism of natural products from aquatic ecosystems, in particular for metabolic diseases.


Research Projects










Group members

PhD student

Ana Fonseca holds a BSc in Environmental Health at the School of Health – Polytechnic Institute of Porto and a MSc in Environmental Toxicology and Contamination at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences Abel Salazar of the University of Porto. She is currently PhD student in Marine Biotechnology and Aquaculture in the Faculty of Sciences – University of Porto, integrating the Blue Young Talent PhD program of CIIMAR. Her research interests focus on finding novel pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals for human metabolic diseases and appetite control, bioprospecting the bioactive potential of microalgae, cyanobacteria and actinobacteria.

Research Technician

Degree in Biochemistry (Porto), Master in Applications in Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology (Porto) and with skills and experience in entrepreneurship acquired in the HiTech 2022 programme. I did an internship in the area of Blue Biotechnology, namely the isolation of bioproducts for human health of economic interest and respective testing in model animals, in a business context at Fykia Biotech Lda., spin-off of CIIMAR.

PhD student

Catarina Gonçalves holds a Pharmacy BSc from School of Health of Polytechnic Institute of Porto (ESS. PPorto) and a Pharmaceutical Chemistry MSc from Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Porto. She is currently PhD student in Marine Biotechnology and Aquaculture in the Faculty of Sciences – University of Porto. Her PhD research focus on finding novel bioactive compounds produced by cyanobacteria with different biotechnological applications (health, cosmetics and environemtal).


Diogo Ferreira Martins earned a B.Sc. in General and Aquatic Biology from the University of Porto in 2011. He received a Fulbright Research Grant in 2013 for studying migratory fish physiology at the US Geological Survey, MA, USA. He obtained a Ph.D. in Animal Science in 2016 from the University of Porto and was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts, MA, USA in 2017. Diogo specializes in molecular physiology and endocrinology, and he is currently a researcher in the Biodiscovery for Health (B4H) group conducting research focused on the exploration of cyanobacteria/microalgae for biotechnological and biomedical research.

Research Technician

My passion for the ocean led me to study a bachelor’s degree on marine sciences in the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and I´m currently complementing it with a master´s degree on Applied Blue Biotechnology in the Catholic University of Valencia (UCV). Along my studies, I developed a growing interest on Marine Natural Products which took me to form part on the “IslandAp” project in the ITC-Canarias institution. Nowadays, the CIIMAR institution opened their arms hosting me in an internship on the research of appetite reducing compounds from microalgae extracts with Ralph Urbatzka as the team leader.

Research Technician

Leonor Ferreira holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences and Technology from FCUP and a Master’s degree in Environmental Toxicology and Contamination from ICBAS/FCUP. She worked as a research fellow for project CYANCAN, performing bioactivity screening of cyanobacteria extracts and isolation of new bioactive compounds. Currently, she is a PhD student in Marine Biotechnology and Aquaculture from FCUP. Her work focuses on the prospection of cyanobacteria for isolating new bioactive compounds. Her main research interests are 3D cancer cell models, multidrug resistance, drug discovery and natural products from cyanobacteria.

PhD student

Natália Silva has a bachelor’s degree in Aquatic Sciences and a master’s degree in Environmental Toxicology and Contamination (2018) from University of Porto. Currently she is working in the Biodiscovery for Health team of CIIMAR as a PhD student. Her investigation research focus is on bioactivity screening of marine cyanobacteria for the isolation and structure elucidation of novel compounds for obesity related co-morbidities. During the last 6 years she has developed and strengthened several skills, including in several microorganism cultures, natural products chemistry (isolation and structure elucidation), bioactivity screening assays and in vivo toxicological assays, and molecular characterization of compounds.

PhD student

Tiago Ribeiro has a Masters degree in Biochemistry, with a branch in Biomolecular methods, from University of Aveiro. He was a research fellow at the CYANOBESITY project, at CIIMAR, until the start of his PhD thesis entitled “Zebrafish larvae as a physiological relevant model system to discover novel cyanobacterial products with human health application”, in 2018. His main interest fields are natural products chemistry, cyanobacteria chemical exploration, Zebrafish as Screening Model, obesity, diabetes and cancer. He was also involved in the creation of the PhD Committee Students of CIIMAR.


Main publications

Potential Anti-Obesity, Anti-Steatosis, and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Extracts from the Microalgae Chlorella vulgaris and Chlorococcum amblystomatis under Different Growth Conditions.

Regueiras, A, Huguet, Á, Conde, T, Couto, D, Domingues, P, Domingues, MR, Costa, AM, Silva, JLd, Vasconcelos, V, Urbatzka, R.

2022Mar. Drugs, 20, 9
Inhibition of Intestinal Lipid Absorption by Cyanobacterial Strains in Zebrafish Larvae.

Bellver, M.; Costa, S.L.d.; Sanchez, B.A.; Vasconcelos, V.; Urbatzka, R.

2021Mar. Drugs, 19, 161
Portoamides A and B are mitochondrial toxins and induce cytotoxicity on the proliferative cell layer of in vitro microtumours.

Sousa M.L., Ribeiro T., Vasconcelos V., Linder S., Urbatzka R.

2020Toxicon, 175: 49-56
Antiproliferative effects of the natural oxadiazine nocuolin A are associated with impairment of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation.

Sousa M.L., Preto M., Vasconcelos V., Linder S., Urbatzka R.

2019Frontiers in Oncology, 9 (APR)
Chlorophyll derivatives from marine cyanobacteria with lipid-reducing activities.

Freitas S., Silva N.G., Sousa M.L., Ribeiro T., Rosa F., Leão P.N., Vasconcelos V., Reis M.A., Urbatzka R.

2019Marine Drugs, 17 (4)