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Northern Biology Student Receives Accolades at NM Undergraduate Research Symposium

Under the leadership of Northern biology professor Dr. Mario Izaguirre-Sierra, three Northern students – Laida Fletcher, Adriel Martinez and Sergio Cordova – participated in a joint poster symposium with the UNM Undergraduate Pipeline Network and the New Mexico Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NM-INBRE) program, August 5, 2015. Cordova's poster on spinal muscular atrophy in plants shared first place with a student from New Mexico Tech.

“Our students use a combination of bioinformatics, genetics and cell biology techniques to study the basic biology of the cell nucleus,” Izaguirre-Sierra said.

Cordova, a student in Northern's Information Engineer Technology program, used computer software and programming to analyze, "shred," and realign the RNA of two plants, one with a particular gene mutation leading to spinal muscular atrophy and the other without that mutation.

"Even though plants have no brain or muscles, this is the same gene that we have as humans," Cordova said. "By 'realigning' the mutated plant RNA, putting the pieces back the way they should be, we can learn where things may have gone wrong. This is how we can use genomic analysis in plants to advance human biomedical research and help find a cure."

In June 2015 Cordova was selected for a paid summer internship at the National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR) in Santa Fe, where he learn how to use programming and the Linux operating system to study bioinformatics, skills he applied to his poster research.

Cordova moved from Mexico when he was nine years old and lives in Pojoaque, NM.

"I wasn't a good student in high school," Cordova said. "My mom sacrificed a lot for me. She left her family and had to learn a new language and a new culture. I promised my parents that I would work hard and do well in college."

When Cordova took his Compass test as a Northern freshman, he learned he was good at math. In his Introduction to Engineering class he built and programmed a robot, and from that moment on decided that he wanted to be an Engineer. Cordova, now a junior, plans to attend graduate school to get his Masters in Engineering.

NM-INBRE is a statewide network funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide research opportunities and enhance science and technology knowledge for students and faculty from undergraduate institutions. Northern New Mexico College is one of the science partner institutions that collaborate with the leading parent institution, New Mexico State University. Dr. Pedro Martinez, Northern's Provost, is the institutional liaison for the grant at Northern.

Dr. Izaguirre-Sierra's laboratory has hosted research projects for students from different institutions including Northern New Mexico College, The Santa Fe Indian School, Northern Arizona University, Santa Fe Community College and Carlos Vigil High School. Follow the lab at: http://bughalo.wix.com/cell-nucleus-lab and Izaguirre-Sierra lab @ NNMC on Facebook.

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