Undergraduate research is a key component of the mission of Rutgers University–Camden. The Center for Computational and Integrative Biology is a passionate advocate of undergraduate research, particularly through its summer program, Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).  REU is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded program which supports up to ten undergraduates for a summer of demanding study in the field of computational and integrative biology, which focuses on the intersection of mathematical, computational, and biological sciences.

Natalia Ortiz-Bachier, a University of Puerto Rico (UPR) student seeking her bachelor’s degree in cellular molecular biology, was one of the students accepted into REU after a rigorous application process.  Ortiz-Bachier learned about REU from her mother, who is the Dean for Sponsored Programs at UPR.  Inspired by her siblings, who are medical doctors, Ortiz-Bachier also hopes to attend medical school after she earns her bachelor’s degree.  “I knew that exposure to a real research project…filled with professionals, will surely be an advantage when being considered for medical school,” she says.

A top student who previously had participated in a NASA-supported nanotechnology summer campus at UPR, Ortiz-Bachier is full of praise for her experience at REU.  “It was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever encountered,” she says.  “Not only did I gain knowledge, but self-pride.  Through the long hours that I spent in the laboratory, I came to appreciate the results that were worth the hard work.  Patience and perseverance are key elements to a successful investigation.”

Ortiz-Bachier’s patience, perseverance, and hard work certainly did lead to success.  Her REU research project, “Metabolic Circadian Oscillator in Neurospora crassa: PRD-1, a Key Component in Bioenergetics,” which she worked on with Rutgers–Camden students Ryan Pachucki (CCAS ’13 and current Graduate School-Camden biology student) and Rameez Shahid  (CCAS ’16), and Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Associate Professor of Biology, examines the circadian clock, which regulates pre-programed time-courses to daily cycles of metabolic changes and behaviors.  Malfunctions of the circadian clock can lead to metabolic disorders like diabetes and heart disease.  Ortiz-Bachier and her group hypothesized that prd-1, a classic clock mutant, is a key component of the circadian metabolic oscillator, and the evidence obtained through their research ultimately supported their theory.

Ortiz-Bachier’s research was accepted for presentation at the recent Research Experiences for Undergraduates Symposium, a nation-wide conference.  The acceptance rate to this particular conference is ten percent from the best posters among hundreds of NSF REU programs; both Dr. Lee and Dr. Benedetto Piccoli, Joseph and Loretta Lopez Endowed Chair of Mathematics and Director of the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology, concur that Ortiz-Bachier’s selection for presentation speaks highly of her work and is an impressive honor.  For her part, Ortiz-Bachier gives kudos to her research partners and the faculty involved in REU.  “I believe that I had an advantage since I was surrounded by such an admirable support system in the laboratory.  Working side-by-side with experts in the field helped me accomplish my job for that research project,” she says. 

REU at Rutgers-Camden will continue in its third year this summer, beginning May 26th, 2015, and will run for ten weeks.  Accepted students receive full room and board and a $5,000.00 stipend.  Eligible students must be enrolled in a post-secondary program of education, obtained a cumulative 3.0 GPA, have completed at least one undergraduate science course, and have completed  no more than 30 college credits  Veterans are encouraged to apply.  Applications will be accepted through March 1st, 2015. Visit REU: Computational Biology Summer Program to learn more.


Written By Julie Roncinske