CONGRATULATIONS TO DR. JOHN AND SHARON VERCELLOTTI ON RECEIVING THE 2023 THE DEREK HORTON AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDUSTRIAL CARBOHYDRATE CHEMISTRY!
Sharon Vergez Vercellotti received her BS in Chemistry from LSU in 1963. Following graduation from LSU, Sharon joined the graduate program at Ohio State University. She worked under the direction of Professor Darryl Busch in the synthesis of macrocyclic ligands of transition metals. Sharon remembers this as a “wonderful, exciting time” in which she published three papers with Busch and completed her MS degree. She made a conscious decision not to complete a PhD in inorganic chemistry, eager to instead broaden her experience in the biomedical area. She worked in an internationally diverse group of scientists at the University of Texas Graduate Medical Research Center in Richardson, TX.
A co-author on a 1965 paper in the Journal of Chromatography was John R. Vercellotti. Sharon and John met at Ohio State and were married in 1966 after she completed her work in Texas. By this time, John was a faculty member at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. During the Milwaukee years, Sharon worked in the Hematology Department of the Marquette Medical School, where her knowledge of macrocyclic iron ligands was beneficial to her project. The Vercellottis moved to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where John was a faculty member in Chemistry and Sharon worked in a biochemistry lab at the Medical School. Their next academic home was Virginia Tech, where John was a tenured full professor. Sharon worked with an oxidation-reduction enzymologist using her enzyme complex kinetics skills and handled everything from enzyme isolations to characterization. She and the family accompanied husband John to the G. Ronzoni Institute in Milan, Italy, for a sabbatical over the year e1977-78 under Professor Benito Casu. Sharon worked on glycosaminoglycan enzymatic kinetics. During their 10 years at Virginia Tech, they had a family and Sharon started taking classes in business administration. Of this time, Sharon says, “it became more apparent to me that there was a whole emerging field of biochemical research built on the ubiquitous metabolism of carbohydrates that spanned the gamut of pharmacology, immune responses, cancer medicine, materials science, human nutrition, and renewable bioenergy. The chemistry of carbohydrates is one of the cornerstones of all organic and biological chemistry.”
In the late ‘70s the Vercellotti Team made a brave commitment to embark on an entrepreneurial venture to start a broad-based carbohydrate chemistry laboratory in Covington, LA. They could see the escalating growth in the field of glycobiology and astutely observed that there were no commercial laboratories dedicated to small scale manufacture, consultation, and the specialized analytical work required for the characterization of carbohydrates. Construction of the laboratory began in July 1979, along with the building of the business structure that has stood the test of time for 43 years. Sharon was bolstered by the support of colleagues in the ACS Division of Small Chemical Businesses and the Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry. Over the years, Sharon has been heavily involved in the ACS, with leadership roles in the Women Chemists Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee, Vision 2025. As the owner and manager of a chemical laboratory for forty-three years, Sharon has made it her privilege to reach out to student interns and technical support persons and encourage them in their education and careers. She is a stalwart of the women’s honorary society in chemistry, Iota Sigma Pi. She takes a special interest in STEM education, especially for young women. The many carbohydrate intermediates either synthesized or collected in unique marketable categories by her, all well characterized instrumentally and
documented, have been marketed through Sharon’s skills on a wide international base. These ranged from glycosaminoglycans, purified polysaccharides, reactive intermediates such as nucleotide phosphates, or unique sugar reductones. Study of the evolving membrane technologies science permitted using newer dialysis membranes and nanofilters to effect polysaccharide and oligosaccharide enrichment.
Today, Sharon continues as the President of V-LABS INC even as it is in its later days of activity. Sharon built a sound business with wise investments in the tools of instrumentation and processing of synthetic materials or isolations. Of her current role, Sharon states that “although I am not in the laboratory or office every day I am still functioning in the business. John serves as Vice President and Senior Chemist and works in the lab on assorted synthetic, isolative, and developmental problems in the biotechnology industries”. She is a recognized authority on entrepreneurship in the context of small chemical businesses. She says, “chemical business is a game with a goal to come out ahead through high quality science.”
John R. Vercellotti received his Ph.D. in organic and biological carbohydrate chemistry at the Ohio State University in 1963 with Professor Melville L. Wolfrom, John Vercellotti. Thereafter, he spent twenty-two years in the academic area teaching and doing research. His first appointment was as a lecturer at Ohio State in General Chemistry to the large freshman sections (360 students per quarter). He held a joint appointment as a postdoc shared by Melville Wolfrom and Derek Horton. After faculty appointments at Marquette University and University of Tennessee, he rose to full professor at Virginia Tech. There, he carried out a broad research program in carbohydrate chemistry and biochemistry related to U.S.D.A. – Agricultural Research Service interests with continued support from the Northern Regional Laboratory, U.S.D.A.-A.R.S. In 1977-78 he spent a sabbatical year at the Giuliana. Ronzoni Institute in Milan, Italy, in collaboration with Professor Benito Casu. Several joint publications came from that work on heparin and other glycosaminoglycan isolation and structure as well as mechanistic characteristics through high resolution NMR. This exchange continued throughout their careers.
After retiring from Virginia Tech in 1979 he helped his wife, Sharon Vercellotti, establish V-LABS, INC., in Covington, Louisiana. During that period, he was invited to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-A.R.S.-Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, LA, as Research Leader of the large Food Flavor Quality Research Unit. Over fourteen years there, he was involved in basic research involving food quality biochemistry of flavor, involving modern gas chromatography – mass spectroscopy and computerized computation with high performance liquid chromatography. This food related data was continually correlated with experimentation through several trained sensory panels under a professional flavor technologist.
After retiring from the U.S.D.A. in 1995 he joined V-LABS and over the past twenty-seven years has worked with many pharmaceutical, food, and carbohydrate research projects. For eight of those years, he contracted with Sugar Processing Research Institute in New Orleans under Dr. Margaret Clarke and Mary An Godshall where he collaborated on the basic chemistry of many sugar industry projects. He has published 270 research papers. Book chapters by him and coworkers range from isolation chemistry of polysaccharides through membrane separations of oligosaccharides and hydrocolloids and the surface chemistry of powdered activated carbon as applied to improving color properties of raw sugars which are used in foods, pharmaceuticals, and high-quality soft drinks. In his work as preparation of quantities of biologically active polysaccharides for testing under therapeutic applications, advances have been made possible through reproducible membrane property syntheses and greater knowledge of fluid dynamics. Scale-up and separation of biological molecules such as glycosaminoglycans from porcine mucosa facilitates purification of the widely used blood anticoagulant, heparin. Other applications have been fractionation and concentration of enzymatic polysaccharide hydrolyzates for selective macrophage toll receptor binding, isolation of large quantities of the hydrocolloid yeast phytoglycogen for various cosmetic applications, and purified N-carboxymethylchitosan useful in foods as transition metal chelators to inhibit oxidation. Throughout all the above experiences the essential techniques always depended on continued synthetic organic carbohydrate chemistry for model compound availability. This knowledge also contributed to availability of many rare sugar derivatives marketed through V-LABS, INC.