Maria Ceja Rodriguez ’14

Maria Ceja RodriguezMajor: Biochemistry
Project: The Effects of Al3+ on DNA Backbone Structure and Dynamics
Grant: W.M. Keck Science Summer Research
Faculty: Mary Hatcher-Skeers, Sidney J. Weinberg, Jr. Chair in Natural Sciences and professor of chemistry

Maria Ceja Rodriguez embodies the Scripps woman—confident, courageous, and hopeful—and her summer research helped get her there.

“Last summer helped me grow as a person,” says Rodriguez, who spent three months on campus researching the effects of aluminum (Al3+) in plant growth and crop yield.

“Previous studies found high concentrations of Al3+ in neurons from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and in some cases, Al3+ toxicity leads to cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) and neurological death,” she says. “We aimed to determine if, and how, Al3+ modifies the DNA backbone to provide a molecular-level basis for observed biological phenomena.”

Rodriguez worked on her project with Professor Mary Hatcher-Skeers. “I learned a great deal from our collaboration,” she says. “I was able to conduct my preliminary thesis research work while learning about important laboratory techniques essential to my thesis work and beyond.”

She is quick to add that the experience also provided the rationale for her post-Scripps plans: “I am now, more than ever, confident in my pursuit of a career in science and am prepared to continue making the necessary steps in achieving this goal.”

As graduation approaches, Rodriguez is confident she is on the right track for her. “I would like to take a gap year to do volunteer work at a hospital or with a nonprofit,” she says. “It would be a great way to segue into medical school, which is a primary goal of mine.”


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