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11 UST Students present Six Research Posters at ABRCMS Conference

Biology Student Wins Best Presentation

Biology Professors Drs. Rosie Rosell, Maia Larios and Associate Biology Professor Albert Ribes-Zamora, along with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Dr. Carlos Monroy, attended ABRCMS—Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students—accompanied by four biology students (Emma Burris, Catherine Duong, Michelle Najarro, and Kevin Nickl) and seven computer science students (Mara Carbajal, Benjamin Navarro, Kate Coxic, Maria Bello, Nafil Atiq, Jarvin Chavez and Alix Rieser) who presented six posters highlighting their research at UST. The November conference was held in Phoenix, Arizona.

Moving the STEM Fields Forward 

ABRCMS' mission is to move the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) forward. The organization advocates for increased diversity by actively including those individuals who have been historically marginalized from working in these fields. The first ABRCMS, hosted by the American Society for Microbiology in 2001, was founded to encourage minority, first-generation, veteran, and disabled students to pursue higher education in STEM. Recently, ABRCMS has expanded to include a hybrid conference, an ePoster Spring Symposium for Emerging Scientists, a Graduate Symposium, and ABRCMS365.

"ABRCMS is one of the best scientific meetings for students because of the variety of opportunities available," Rosell said. "There are presentation competitions for oral and poster displays, mentoring opportunities for students by scientists from other universities, and recruiting opportunities by graduate schools from all over the U.S. The focus is on inclusion and diversity and training the next generation of scientists, and it is attended by 5,000-8,000 students and professors every year. This year, there were more than 3,000 student presentations."

Catherine DuongBiology Student Catherine Duong won the Best Presentation Award

Rosell's student, Catherine Duong, who presented her research in the category of Physiology and Pharmacology won a Best Presentation Award. The title of her presentation was:

Fecundity and Development in D. melanogaster is Negatively Impacted from Exposure to Toluene. (Research team included: Catherine Duong; Ellie Salsman; Evelyn Carrion; Neiah Richard; Valeria Arredondo; Jesus Arredondo; Natalia Gonzalez; and Rosemarie Rosell, Ph.D, University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas.)

Rosell added, "I am so proud of Catherine, a smart, dedicated, and well-spoken biology major who will graduate in May 2024,. She has been working with me on this project for three years. She hopes to attain employment in the Texas Medical Center and ultimately achieve a graduate degree."

Larios said,  "It is a huge conference, and winning anything is quite an achievement. Catherine's award is a testament to her hard work and dedication to her project, as well as that of her mentor, Dr. Rosell, and the quality of preparation our STEM students receive in our classrooms and in the lab. But all the students worked very hard and did really well at the meeting. They represented our programs well and we are very proud of all of them.”

(L to R) Computer science students: Nafil Atiq, Maria Bello, Carolina Carbajal, Alix Rieser, Kate Coxic, and Benjamin Navarro.Computer Science Students Presented Research on Developing High-Performance Engine for Processing Large Biological datasets.

Seven computer science students presented ongoing research work developing a high-performance engine for processing large Biological datasets.

“Our pipeline is a distributed processing system deployed on Amazon AWS Cloud and allows to process DNA and RNA sequences efficiently.," Monroy said. "Presently, we can process nearly 1 million sequences in approximately fifteen hours, generating nearly 25 million results, which will be analyzed to determine the viruses carried by mosquitoes in the Houston area. A second project seeks to analyze +300 million protein sequences identifying cellular processes. 

“This has been a unique opportunity for the students since it has enabled them to experience ongoing research projects in other universities,” Monroy said. “Some of them have expressed interest in continuing doctoral studies. This is an NSF-funded project in the application of Graph Neural Networks and Machine Learning techniques to Biological data, and aims at establishing sustainable and long-term computational research capacity at UST in collaboration with Rice University, led by Computer Science professor Dr. Carlos Monroy in collaboration with UST Biologists Drs. Maia Larios and Albert Ribes.”

The students have been learning to apply their computer science knowledge to solving data analysis related to biological problems. “It has been an incredibly enriching experience for all involved, faculty and students alike, and this was the first trip to a conference for these students," Larios said.  "Presenting posters at national conferences such as this one is a valuable opportunity for our developing scientists to learn to communicate their science to their peers, and the ABRCMS meeting is designed to give undergraduates many opportunities to network with professors and other scientists from across the country, as well as learn about post-grad opportunities for their future and how to prepare so they can be competitive for these opportunities."


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2131293.