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An Ambassador for Research

UI student virology researcher shares interdisciplinary work in D.C.

Anna Rodriguez loves animals, and always has. She came to the University of Idaho in 2012 to study animal science, thinking she’d like to be a veterinarian. But the chance to study the bacteria and viruses that make animals sick caught her attention instead.

“You don’t have to be a vet to help animals. You can help through research,” said Rodriguez, 22, of Kuna, who graduated in May 2016 and continues to work as a lab technician in UI’s College of Science.

After participating in research throughout her time as an undergraduate, Rodriguez is now an ambassador for the importance of student research opportunities.

In July 2016, she represented the state of Idaho in Washington, D.C., at the National IDeA Symposium of Biomedical Research Excellence, which brings together scientists who work with several programs that fall under the National Institutes of Health’s Institutional Development Award, or IDeA, which assists states with historically low biomedical research funding to expand their investments in projects, infrastructure and people.

These federal programs support UI projects like Idaho INBRE, the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies and the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions (CMCI), which has funded Rodriguez’ research. CMCI is funded by a grant from the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, or COBRE.

Along with presenting at the conference, Rodriguez was one of eight students from across the nation chosen to meet with legislators and legislative staff from their state or region to share their experiences and promote COBRE and other federal programs that support student research.

Her time in D.C. emphasized to Rodriguez the value of university research.

“The more I go to conferences, the more I realize how important research is, and how many people are doing similar things,” she said.

Rodriguez presented the results of her year working with Tanya Miura, an associate professor of biological sciences at UI who studies viruses. Rodriguez was drawn to the lab after taking Miura’s immunology class. She realized that since she loved animals, she cared about what made them sick.

“Animals get sick all the time, and you have to figure out how to help them,” Rodriguez said. “Figuring out how these viruses and diseases work is important.”

Rodriguez worked on the lab’s viral coinfection project, which studies what happens when an organism’s respiratory tract is infected by two or more viruses at once. This research aims to answer broad questions about how such a co-infection can increase or decrease and disease severity.

Rodriguez had previous experience working with math professor Steve Krone through UI’s Undergraduate Biology and Mathematics program, and her research in Miura’s lab connected to math as well: She gathered data in the laboratory on cell and viral growth rates and how quickly the viruses decay without host cells.

She collaborated with mathematicians and modelers from CMCI, which funds the viral co-infection project. By using real-world data to create a model, the researchers could better predict how viruses and cells might interact.

Miura praised Rodriguez for her generosity in helping others on the research team.

“She is always willing to jump in when someone needs help with an experiment, running assays, analyzing data or providing feedback on a presentation,” Miura said.

Working with CMCI has given Rodriguez an appreciation for interdisciplinary research and the people who collaborate to make it happen.

“I like seeing the collaborations between two different fields, mathematics and biology,” she said. “It’s not just looking at the science, it’s not just looking at the math, it’s looking at it together to generate results.”

Rodriguez now works full time in Miura’s lab as a technician as she prepares to apply to graduate programs in the Northwest to pursue a doctorate in biology — and continue her dedication to research that changes the world.

“My research experiences have helped me a lot. It’s really an incredible opportunity, and something I think a lot of students should definitely try,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be biology or viruses. There’s a lot of opportunities, especially on our campus.”

Article by Tara Roberts, University Communications & Marketing

Anna Rodriguez looks through a microscope in the biology lab.
Caption

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