Biology major from Saipan selected by Stanford summer research program

For biology major Dimitrios Camacho ’19, being selected to participate in a competitive summer research program at Stanford University is more than a privilege. It’s personal.

With the help and recommendation of his genetics professor Dr. Meredith Protas, assistant professor of biological sciences, Dimitrios was awarded one of fewer than 40 slots from more than 700 applicants to the SSRP-Amgen Scholars Program, which is intended for undergraduate students planning to pursue a doctorate.

Dimitrios, who hails from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, has spent the past two years at Dominican working with Dr. Vania Coelho, professor of biological sciences in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, on research focused on how artificial shading mitigates the detrimental effects of thermal bleaching on corals.

Warming ocean temperatures in the Northern Mariana region resulted in widespread damage to coral reefs in both 2013 and 2014.

“Our fishing industry relies on our coral reefs,” says Dimitrios. “Coral reefs are the foundation of the many marine ecosystems that Islanders rely on for a source of food. If the reefs start to die, everything is impacted. The main industry of tourism also relies heavily on the survival of these coral reefs, so the research is very meaningful to me.”

Dimitrios hopes to continue his research on Saipan and other Pacific Islands after completing his post doctorate studies.

Hands-on experiences gained in the Coelho lab studying coral bleaching have prepared Dimitrios well for the summer program at Stanford, where he will study coral reef organisms on a molecular level. He will focus on employing genome editing techniques, like CRISPR-cas 9 to study how different genes are expressed when corals are stressed. He endeavors to create transgenic corals that will resist higher thermal bleaching thresholds.

“The work they are doing at Stanford is amazing and I look forward to jumping into it,” Dimitrios says.

After graduating from his high school with honors, Dimitrios also jumped at the chance to come to Dominican where his father, Oscar, graduated in 1985 with a BA in International Studies and in 1988 with a MA in Pacific Basin Studies.

At Dominican, undergraduate research is built into the science curriculum beginning in a student’s first year. Dimitrios’ commitment to a life of scientific research was inspired in Dr. Coelho’s research methodology course during his freshman year.

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Before beginning the program at Stanford, Dimitrios hopes to return to Saipan to reconnect with David Benavente, who is lead biologist at Coastal Resource Management.

Dimitrios, who volunteered as a technician’s assistant at Coastal Resource Management, has followed Benavente for years as a source of knowledge, hope, and inspiration.

Says Dimitrios, “I remember looking up to him and telling him, `Man this is exactly what I want to do.’ ”

Dimitrios is getting that opportunity at Dominican.

 

March 31, 2017