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Undergraduate Student Researcher: Kendra-Marie Garcia

Aquinas senior, Kendra-Marie Garcia, has been diving deep into the world of biology this summer. Working on two different projects, Garcia is busy researching and experimenting with salmonoid and zebrafish populations. She is doing everything from isolating to mutating to deleting genes found in these populations to test the affects that these genes have on the fish and what this could mean for humans as well.

Last year, Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Rob Peters, asked a few students if they would be interested in conducting summer research. As a biology major, this interested Garcia and she decided to apply. She had to fill out a questionnaire and provide a submission of previous academic performance. Peters is happy that Garcia applied. “In class, she demonstrated her great interest in biology and immunology. She also demonstrated many skills required for conducting a successful research project in molecular biology. I was lucky that she was available and interested in participating in the project,” Peters said.

Garcia and Peters have been working on two research projects this summer. Peters previously worked on a project dealing with Renibacterium salmoninarum, a gram-positive bacterial fish pathogen. Garcia is helping him continue this research.

Renibacterium salmoninarum causes bacterial kidney disease, which in turn causes mortality in wild salmonoid populations. This directly affects ecological restoration and commercial production. Garcia and Peters are working to identify and target virulence factors and then delete genes that contain these factors by using homologous recombination. “This may lead to an attenuated strain that could possibly be used as a vaccine for salmon against bacterial kidney disease (BKD),” said Garcia.

Garcia’s main research project, though, is on a project presented to Peters by his colleague from graduate school, Dr. Del Cid. “Our main focus this summer was to isolate and mutate the genes of two immunological proteins found in zebrafish. NOD1 and NOD2 are receptors that are a part of the innate immune system and help detect the presence of bacteria,” said Garcia. “Mutations in the human form of these proteins may result in different forms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) such as ulcerative colitits or Chron’s disease. With these DNA constructs, our collaborator wishes to explore the possible role of microbiota on the development of the immune system.”

Peters has been available to help Garcia, prepare her for research and answer any questions that she has but he found that she is capable of doing much of the research on her own. “I helped Kendra get started with the research project by teaching her a bit about the big-picture relevance and importance of the work, the concepts associated with the techniques we would employ, gave her many papers to read related to the project, got her the supplies she would need and setting her up with a great collaborator. After giving Kendra an introduction and showing her how to do a few things in the lab, she works very well independently,” Peters said.

The project has had its challenges but Garcia and Peters have developed a positive attitude even when things do not go as planned. “We have faced many hurdles and road blocks, but based on my experience in a molecular biology lab, that is very typical. I'm very excited about what we've accomplished and where the project is going,” Peters said.

Garcia began research on May 20 and will continue researching throughout the fall 2013 semester as an independent study. She is appreciative of Peters’ guidance throughout the research projects. “Dr. Peters has helped me a great deal through the entire process,” said Garcia. “He demonstrated the various techniques I would need to use and gave me helpful tips when I was first trying them out. He also prepared me for the high failure rate that comes with research. Research is very different from class in the fact that things usually don’t work out as expected. It has helped me to learn how to troubleshoot and seek advice when something doesn’t go according to plan.”

Garcia will present her research at the Mohler-Thompson poster, the West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Research Conference, and the Aquinas Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Symposium.