Ana Henriquez - Student Profile
How did you become interested in science and/or research?
My favorite answer to the question, "Why science?" is that I was tricked into falling in love with it, but I now realize that could never have been true. Dr. Michael Vallor, my first biology teacher, saw my enthusiasm for asking questions during class and probing for answers that went beyond the textbook. From 8th-12th grade, he encouraged me to participate in the regional science fair in San Antonio, and supported me through the ups and downs that come with any kind of research. So many times I came close to quitting, but that little voice that persisted in asking, "Why did this fail? How can I fix it? How should I approach this problem?" kept me from giving up. Even after my subjects ate each other two weeks before the science fair and I had to switch systems (mealworms are so much easier to work with than Painted Lady caterpillars anyways), I couldn't help but give it one more try. As it turns out, that project took me to Intel ISEF, where I met hundreds of other students who had also struggled through the failures, but who were just as excited as I was to share their successes. The summer before my senior year in high school I moved my "bench" from my kitchen table to a lab at University of the Incarnate Word, for which my mother was exceedingly grateful. There I worked with Dr. Veronica Martinez-Acosta, a fellow Hispanic woman, who guided me through my project while letting me take the lead on design and execution. When I went off to University of Dallas for college, I once again found an incredible mentor, Dr. William Cody, who continued to cultivate my research interests and encouraged me to do research at other institutions, including UTSW. These experiences were invaluable to my formation as a young scientist. Without even realizing it, I had fallen in love and begun to dedicate my life to research.
Please describe your research.
Here at UT Southwestern I am working on an incredibly successful parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can invade almost all nucleated cells of warm-blooded animals, and about a third of the world's population is infected with it. Even though it does infect such a broad variety of cells, it still exhibits preferences and superinfects some cells in culture while shunning others in the immediate vicinity. I am currently investigating the mechanism behind this non-random phenomenon. This may help us develop new ways to prevent or treat infection, since current therapeutics are limited and come with a host of adverse side effects.
What do you think makes the Cell & Molecular Biology Program one of the best?
The Cell and Molecular Biology Program at UTSW provides the most diverse and collaborative program I have ever encountered. Members include students and faculty from several departments, including Pharmacology, Cancer, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Microbiology, just to name a few. At student WIPs (works-in-progress seminars), I get to hear about research that is completely different from my own but which still gives me new perspectives on how to ask questions and approach experiments.
What do you love about the Cell & Molecular Biology Program?
The program also fosters great mentoring relationships between students and faculty, all of whom are excited to see trainees succeed in their research and career pursuits.
– Ana Henriquez, Cell & Molecular Biology Graduate Program