Research at Rensselaer

Barquera studies energy transduction, enzymes

For the past week and a half, George Plopper’s highly acclaimed class entitled Introduction to Cell Biology has been taught by guest lecturer Blanca Barquera. Plopper introduced Barquera as an expert in the field of cellular metabolism and energy storage. Furthermore, he said she could have written the bioenergetics chapter of our book just as well, if not better, than him.

Barquera is originally from Mexico. As an undergraduate at the National University of Mexico, she decided to concentrate, or major, in chemistry. Furthermore, she also decided to do research in biochemistry, where she first began working with membrane proteins. As time progressed, she developed an interest for the physical chemistry of membrane proteins and their uniqueness. This made her develop an everlasting interest in microbiology and more importantly, bioenergetics. After receiving special permission from the university, she took a class on microbiology. Here, she learned important techniques in microbiology such as spectroscopy, and the class also further solidified her interest in this type of research.

After discovering her passion, Barquera pursued her doctorate in biochemistry at the National University of Mexico. She performed her postdoctoral training at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and at the University of Helsinki in Finland. In Finland she worked under Professor Mårten Wikström, who is one of her most inspirational figures regarding the work she does currently.

After working in Finland, she decided to move to Troy, N.Y., where she currently works as an associate professor at Rensselaer. Seven years ago she chose to work at RPI, as her husband is a core director here, and she appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of the research that is performed here.

Despite having a relatively small group here at RPI, Barquera is diligently breaking ground in the field of bioenergetics. She is funded by a National Institutes of Health fellowship and the United States National Science Foundation. In addition, she has roughly 50 scientific publications in very prestigious journals not including the two papers in the field of biochemistry and biophysics that are currently under review. Barquera has recently presented her research at the Bioenergetics Gordon Conference.

Currently her lab is working to better understand energy transduction and the enzymes that are responsible to create gradients in cellular respiration. Her lab also performs side directed mutagenesis, as they are trying to understand how enzymes move electrons, how sodium ions travel through membrane proteins against the concentration gradient, and how some cells survive in high sodium environments. Her primary goal is to thoroughly understand the crystal structure of these membrane proteins and to study the physiology of pathogens.

Barquera’s life revolves around scientific research. Regarding her hobbies, Barquera loves to cook as she compares it to the similarities it has with chemistry. She says that she is very inspired by the work of her lab members including popular Barton R.A. Divya Akula ’12. She encourages her students to pursue a career in science. She uses the quote told by Louis Pasteur that, “Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world,” as an emblem of how science is different from any other aspect of life.