A&M International Undergrads Help Professors in Important Research

Undergraduate students at Texas A&M International University are not only taking classes and completing required assignments these days. They are also assisting faculty members in important research and obtaining interesting results.

Two such students are Devon Ramirez and Cordelia Bernal, both senior biology majors. The students are working with their respective biology professors, Dr. Thomas Vaughan, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Sushma Krishnamurthy, assistant professor of biology. Ramirez and Bernal recently presented their research at the Texas Academy of Sciences 101st Conference in Tyler, Texas, and their research could enhance the understanding of Laredo's environment.

Ramirez said she started her research with Dr. Krishnamurthy as a volunteer to find the effects that an agricultural herbicide called Atrazine has on planaria, or a type of flat worm.

"I've been helping in this research for two years, and I've been doing this to inform people how toxic Atrazine can be," Ramirez said.

Ramirez's instructor, Krishnamurthy, said that she and her student are seeing some neural defects in those worms affected by the herbicide.

"We are getting very interesting results and we hope to publish the research," Krishnamurthy said.

Bernal, on the other hand, has been working with Dr. Vaughan to determine the incidence of fecal coliform bacteria in the Laredo portion of the Rio Grande.

"The river is a very important water source for Laredo and we have been monitoring two upstream and two downstream sites for the level of fecal coliform bacteria," Bernal said.

Dr. Vaughan, said that since Nuevo Laredo did not have a sewage treatment plant until recently, the raw sewage was being released directly into the Rio Grande. As a result, the level of coliform bacteria has been extremely high in the river, he added.

According to Bernal, she started assisting in the research because she saw the importance of improving the quality of water in the Rio Grande.

"Since there are so many people in Laredo, we need to see what they are drinking," Bernal said, adding that some day, she plans to study environmental law.

Meanwhile, Vaughan said that making a research presentation at a science conference is one of the best experiences that a student can have.

"They have to stand in front of people who know the subject and who ask questions about the research. This gives the students an opportunity to think on their feet," Vaughan said.

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