Veronica Martinez-Acosta

Veronica G. Martinez-Acosta
Professor
University of the Incarnate Word

Interview by: Diego and Pablo Acosta, Ryleigh Burgess, Esin Edepli, Genevieve Hebert

Selfies with Scientists is a project of MBL’s Children’s Programs. We are endeavoring to investigate the world of science through our interviews.

Dr. Martinez-Acosta teaches at a small college in San Antonio, Texas and researches regeneration of nerves in a small California black worm, Lumbriculus variegatus. She became interested in the nervous system when she was in college. As a young child she loved Science and Math, “My favorite thing to do was go to science camp.” As a scientist, she studies how well the nervous system regenerates, “I study this worm because it is able to regenerate really well. In an organism like us, nervous systems do not regenerate well, so one of the questions I ask myself is why do these animals regenerate? Why and how do they regenerate? What kinds of molecules, proteins, or genes do they have that they are utilizing that our bodies are not utilizing? What ways have these worms figured out how to regenerate their whole body?”

“I can cut a worm down to just three segments worth and it will regenerate the whole thing, which includes the brain, the equivalent of its spinal cord, digestive system, and cells that are like your kidneys. What’s really cool about this worm is that it not only regenerates but recovers its function completely. So, I can cut the tail and because it only regenerates 7-8 head segments, the tail will now be in the head region of the worm. And instead of continuing to behave like a tail, the old worm fragment will function as a head.”

When asked how long she’s been a scientist, Dr. Martinez-Acosta, said 14 years, “But, if you think about it, I’ve always been interested in Math and Science and so maybe I can go back even further. Maybe, I’ve been a scientist my whole life because I was always asking why, why, why. My mother would get tired of me asking why – I was always curious!”

The campers asked what challenges she faced growing up. “When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of things and so I didn’t always get to go to science camp and so when I couldn’t go, I was always digging in the dirt, figuring things out.”

The interviewers spent lots of time in Dr. Martinez-Acosta’s laboratory and experimented with Lumbriculus variegatus, which prompted her to suggest, “As a scientist we have a lot of experiments that don’t always work the first time and so we have to try again and again.” Her challenges as a scientist include dealing with the excitement of conducting experiments. “So, the biggest challenge is that I am so excited about an experiment and sometimes they don’t turn out the way we thought it would. But instead of being upset about it, it’s an opportunity to think about our question again and to think about it another way. To figure out a better question to address it.”

The interviewers asked what her goals were, which became obvious as the they spent time engaging with the worms as they probed and examined them under the microscopes. She explained that she works with this worm so she can share the information with the biological community, so they have knowledge about every animal. Dr. Martinez-Acosta also wants to train the next generation of scientist and helps MBL direct its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (REU).