Ivana RodríguezMajor: Biology Mentor: Dr. Immo Hansen, Associate Professor,Biology at New Mexico State University
My undergraduate years have helped me expand my perspective as a scientist and have changed how I see the universe. I have always had a passion for learning, with an inquisitive mind to match, which led me to produce more questions than I could answer. When I began my college career, and with the support of brilliant, exceptionally inspiring professors, I learned how to seek answers in my own creative manner.
My journey into research began just over three years ago, when I was accepted into the RISE program for underrepresented minorities at my home university. As a sophomore, I was a neophyte in the field of applied biomedical research. The RISE program was the first internship in which I learned how to critically analyze scientific knowledge, collaborate with peers in a self-propelled research project, and ask relevant, significant questions.
The following semester, I participated in an organic chemistry lab, which taught me the importance and beauty of biochemical interactions as the basis for all of life. I not only learned how to synthesize organic compounds, but I also acquired some understanding of the foundations from which genetic interaction is based upon.
I wanted to explore different research topics around my campus before settling on a long-term project, so the following spring I volunteered in a developmental neurobiology lab. In this setting, I was exposed to the different facets of neurobiology, including physiology, genetics, and signaling pathways. This volunteering position allowed me to expand my thinking and incorporate a more interdisciplinary approach to neuroscience. In fact, it was in this lab that I first learned to appreciate the fascinating relationship between genetics and neuroscience (my two foremost passions).
That summer, I was accepted into an internship at the University of Georgia, where I learned several new (or arguably dated—depending on who you ask) cytogenetic techniques. In this program, I assisted in a project involving the first construction of a complete karyotype for cultivated peanut. I became so immersed in plant genetics as a model for understanding genomics that in the summer of 2015, I applied for an enriching internship with the Boyce Thompson Institute on the Cornell University campus. This thrilling opportunity gave me the chance to acquire new skills in bioinformatics and pipeline streamlining. Additionally at BTI, I gained an extensive appreciation for the complex nature of the genome, and how it so beautifully orchestrates every function, every trait, that an organism can acquire. My experiences in the university have given me knowledge which transcends academic philosophies: it is in fact my research that always prompted me to ask the most significant questions; to challenge, dispute and critique every aspect of my work; to appreciate failure; and not to merely accept every fact, but rather, to be receptive to e very possibility.
I ultimately dream of making a great contribution to our understanding of pervasive neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, in hopes that my efforts will make a difference in the lives of those who suffer and struggle with them. My ideal career would involve researching the genetic mechanisms which drive these types of disorders and propagating scientific knowledge as a professor.
As an American Latina, I believe I can contribute a unique perspective to a global scientific community. I desire for my accomplishments in research not only to greatly impact science, but moreover, I want my passion for research to inspire other young women like myself, by demonstrating that a student is limited by nothing more than her passion and curiosity. Throughout my journey (and the struggles that came with it), I learned to cherish the people in my community—especially the rare mentors who understood and helped with my financial, academic, and personal battles. It was the diverse faculty and mentorship that largely supported me through my academic achievements. I have taken all of my hurdles in stride and have continued on in academia, determined to make a great change in science. I am driven both by my passion for learning, but even more so by my determination to change the lives of my family members whom have suffered with neurodegenerative disease.
RNAseq-Analysis of the Salivary Gland Transcriptome of the BuryingBeetle Nicrophorus orbicollis
My current research focuses on transcriptome analysis of burying beetles in differential conditions, using bioinformatics and RNA-Seq methodologies. I seek to understand how food resource availability affects the quantity of ecologically vital antimicrobial peptides in these beetles.
Burying Beetles (family: Silphidae, genus: Nicrophorus) are particularly well known for bi-parental care of offspring as well as the ability to secrete antimicrobial peptides in order to preserve carrion. Such features are of vital importance to the survival and growth of their offspring. Because they are carrion feeders, it is imperative for Nicrophorus beetles to mitigate the effects of bacterial decomposition by utilizing a variety of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) secreted from their salivary and anal glands. Interestingly, environmental conditions affect the production of antimicrobial compounds.
We sequenced the transcriptomes from burying beetle salivary glands under different feeding conditions (fed ground beef vs. starved). Since Nicrophorus currently lacks a reference genome, we used the software suite Trinity to de novo assemble raw transcript reads. The resulting transcriptomes were annotated using Trinotate and protein prediction databases to assign putative function to genes to identify the types of peptides being expressed.
We found that different conditions of food availability indeed affect the expression of antimicrobial associated genes, as well as other proteins in the transcriptome of N. orbicollis. Our research provides a context for studying differential expression in Burying Beetles and demonstrates the impact of environmental conditions upon the ecology and survival of Nicrophorus.