Sitting humbly in his silence, gathering dozens of pages of data, New Mexico State University student Cesar Montelongo is tucked away in a biology lab eager to make his mark on society. Montelongo is a biology master’s graduate with a unique past, inspiring story and bright future.
- He is part of a team of researchers using live snail tissue and bioinformatics to identify immune factors in the Biomphalaria glabrata snail. The research, shared and reachable worldwide, sequences and annotates the B. glabrata genome. Information gained from the snail is helping scientists determine how humans become infected with schistomiasis, the second-most widespread parasitic disease in tropical and sub-tropical areas, next to malaria.
- The disease is acquired when people come into contact with fresh water that has been infested with the larval form of schistosomes. When these microscopic parasites become adults, they embed themselves into a person’s veins, draining the urinary tract and intestines. Eggs laid by these worms become trapped in the body’s tissue and trouble arises when the body begins to respond, by fighting off the attacker and the body.
- By controlling the snail vectors and browsing specific genomes, scientists and researchers are able to hypothesize how the snails may resist becoming infected themselves by the parasite.
Bioinformatics is the process in which scientists and doctors manage biological information. It is the area where Montelongo believes he can make a difference in patients’ lives.
“I have a hope that bioinformatics will make a difference in how patients are treated, and overall how the medical field works,” he said. “My father became very sick in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and for the longest time we had no idea what was wrong with him. With my father incapacitated and all the violence throughout the city, that made a huge impression on me. It was in that moment I decided I wanted to become the kind of person who could prevent that.”