UTRGV biology major earns first place for her research poster on Zika virus

Brenda Hernandez-Barron, a senior biology major at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is shown here with her first place poster in the Undergraduate Student Poster Competition: Medical and Veterinary Entomology category, at a joint meeting of the 25th International Congress of Entomology and the Entomological Society of America in Orlando, Florida. (Courtesy Photo)

By Vicky Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – OCT. 13, 2016 – Brenda Hernandez-Barron, a senior biology major at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was awarded first place in her category in the Undergraduate Student Poster Competition: Medical and Veterinary Entomology, at a joint meeting of the 25th International Congress of Entomology and the Entomological Society of America.

The conference, “Entomology without Borders,” held recently in Orlando, Florida,

is the largest congregation of scientists and experts in the discipline and attracted more than 6,000 delegates worldwide.

Hernandez-Barron’s research poster, “Zika Virus Infection and Dissemination within South Texas Mosquito Vectors,” focused on Zika virus transmission and infection rate capacity.

“I experimented on one species of mosquito, Aedes albopictus, which is one of the species that transmits dengue, West Nile, chikungunya, and now Zika virus,” Hernandez-Barron said.

As part of her research, she sampled 32 mosquitos exposed to the Zika virus over a period of time. Every 24 to 48 hours, a certain number of mosquitos were withdrawn and tested for infection.

“We exposed the mosquitos to the virus under temperatures and humidity rates from the Rio Grande Valley, to see how fast they would begin to test positive for the virus in certain body parts,” Hernandez-Barron said. “This study helps us determine the speed with which Zika virus disseminates throughout this species of mosquito, and the amount of time it takes for them to become infectious under local conditions.”

The next stage of the study will be conducted on the both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species, using a larger sample.

Hernandez-Barron has been working with Dr. Christopher Vitek, UTRGV associate professor of biology, in the Medical Entomology laboratory for two years. She is now also working with Dr. John Thomas, UTRGV assistant professor of biology, in the virology laboratory. 

The team of three has been working on this specific research since January.

“Brenda has actively engaged in her own research projects, and the quality and excellence of her performance has been obvious to me for quite some time,” Vitek said. 

“It is very rewarding, as her mentor, to see her recognized in this fashion, as I know the level of dedication and effort she has put into her research.  I couldn’t be prouder of her performance, and expect continued greatness from her in the future,” he said. 

Hernandez-Barron’s goal is to publish the next phase of her research in early 2017. She will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in biology, with a minor in chemistry, this December. 

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