TAMIU Students, Research Skills Aided by State of the Art Equipment
Posted: 6/26/14

TAMIU Students Research, Skills
Aided by State of the Art Equipment

Finding ways to clean up heavy metal pollution, discovering an alternative to antibiotics, and working on protein purification are just three of the challenges students at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) addressed in their research with the help of equipment acquired through National Science Foundation (NSF) grants.

“The pieces of equipment that have been awarded to the University through various research grants are integral components to be able to carry out research activities. For example, in my lab the grants enabled us to get a high-performance centrifuge, a chromatography system and a freeze-drier,” said Dr. Ruby Ynalvez, TAMIU associate professor of biology.

Texas A&M International University students and recent graduates conducted research using state of the art technology at TAMIU. They are, left to right: Ignacio R. Alaniz III (TAMIU ’14); Sophia Quiñones, biology major; Juan José García, biology major; La

TAMIU Student Scientists
Texas A&M International University students and recent graduates conducted research using state of the art technology at TAMIU. They are, left to right: Ignacio R. Alaniz III (TAMIU ’14); Sophia Quiñones, biology major; Juan José García, biology major; Laura A. De Llano, biology graduate student; Kassandra Compeán, biology graduate student; Dr. Ruby A. Ynalvez, TAMIU associate professor of biology; Patrick J. Palacios, biology graduate student; Amanda Michelle Garza (TAMIU ’14); Ricardo Pedraza (TAMIU ’14); and Álvaro Sanchez (TAMIU ’14).

Students benefit from the equipment by learning how to operate the machines and they apply the principles of the techniques that they learn inside the classroom in their respective research, added Dr. Ynalvez.

Her research students have engaged in biochemical, molecular biology and microbiological techniques.

“All science majors should become involved in research; it’s the next logical step. Experiments are about trial and error, but when they work, the feeling is so satisfying,” said Alvaro Sánchez (TAMIU ’14).

Sánchez’s research involved testing algae cells for their potential to collect/sequester toxic heavy metals.

Alvaro Sanchez and Sophia Quiñones use equipment to conduct research.

Alvaro Sanchez and Sophia Quiñones use equipment to conduct research.

“We want to see if we can use these algae to clean up heavy metal pollution in the environment,” explained Sánchez.

It’s not just the possibility of improving the environment that motivates Sánchez. He enjoys the process of conducting research.

“I like physically using the knowledge that I acquired through my courses and applying them to practical purposes. I feel a sense of pride when my experiment finally works,” he said.

Ynalvez concurred.

“Most of our students are excited to do research. I believe they want to be a part of the discoveries, no matter how small,” Ynalvez said.

Ricardo Pedraza, Jr. (TAMIU ’14) agreed.

“My favorite part about conducting research is the hands-on experience I get. I was so accustomed to reading textbooks and attending lectures. However, through biology research with Dr. Ynalvez, I learned more about the various cellular processes. This is a different approach to learning that I really appreciate,” Pedraza said.

For his research, Pedraza explained that he was trying to overexpress a gene to study its protein’s heavy metal tolerance, which could be used to clean heavy metal pollution.

“I learned several laboratory techniques and I also improved several personal characteristics such as patience and determination,” Pedraza said.

The additional benefits to research are a bonus, but the goal is still to teach students research skills.

“Students learn laboratory techniques that will help them with their future jobs or in the next level of their academic career. For students to conduct research is a very valuable experience during their undergraduate years,” said Ynalvez.

Kassandra Compeán, Graduate Retention Enhancement at TAMIU (GREAT) biology fellow, said conducting research caused her to change her career plans and she now plans to pursue a career as a biomedical research veterinarian after she completes graduate school.

GREAT fellows receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education for research initiatives.

“My research focused on evaluating antimicrobial activity of several plant extracts and trying to identify the compounds that exhibit this activity. The significance of my research is to be able to find new antimicrobial agents because bacteria are becoming resistant to current antibiotics,” explained Compeán.

“Research methods vary greatly, so you just try something and if it doesn’t work, you try something else. Also, knowing that you can discover something important in the world is very exciting!” said Compeán.

Patrick J. Palacios, GREAT biology graduate fellow, shared Compeán’s enthusiasm about how being a scientist means sharing discoveries and making contributions to the scientific world.

“Desired results are not a guarantee, but when you do get results in your research, it is a satisfying feeling knowing that you have just discovered something that wasn’t known before,” Palacios said.

Patrick Palacios

Patrick Palacios

His research focused on protein purification.

“Lectin proteins have been known to possess many characteristics, such as anti-cancer, anti-HIV and anti-fungal properties. Using the state of the art equipment, such as the BioLogic LP system, high performance centrifuges and the Labconco freeze-drier, lectin purification is made possible,” explained Palacios.

One of the other skills students learn is commitment. Ignacio R. Alaniz III (TAMIU ’14) conducted research with Ynalvez for three years. 

“I enjoy the sense of discovery. Whatever it may be: knowledge, results, or a different avenue towards your goal, research has something to offer for everyone in every field. Spending hours in the laboratory to reach the goal in mind was an enjoyable challenge, but the knowledge gained from literature, peer and mentor interaction, and conferences greatly encompasses this amazing opportunity I have been afforded,” Alaniz said.

His research included finding an alternative antibiotic and a source to cleanse water sources from toxic metals.

The research conducted by Sánchez, Pedraza and Alaniz is funded through Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program. Ynalvez received the grant in 2013 and for research on environmental pollution by heavy metals, an increasingly serious public health and environmental problem worldwide. The project’s success will provide a basis for the development of an innovative approach for assessing and removing heavy metals in polluted waters.

Ynalvez stressed that although most students are excited to conduct research, it is a commitment. Students must understand the objectives and goals of their research and they have to comprehend the significance of the contribution of their research to the scientific community.

For more information, contact Ynalvez at rynalvez@tamiu.edu or 326.2643 or visit offices in the TAMIU Lamar Bruni Vergara Science Center, room 385D.

University office hours are 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday – Thursday, and 8 a.m. – noon, Friday.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at prmis@tamiu.edu