Biosafety experts share ASU expertise at Mexico symposium

June 10, 2015

Two Arizona State University employees from an office considered an expert in its field had the opportunity to share their knowledge during a symposium in Mexico City.

Irene Mendoza and David Gillum from ASU’s Environmental Health and Safety Office were featured speakers at the June 3-6 Asociación Mexicana de Bioseguridad Simposio – a biosafety conference held annually in Mexico.  Biosafety briefing at Mexico City symposium David Gillum, associate director of biosafety and biosecurity for Arizona State University's Environmental Health and Safety Office, leads a briefing on biosecurity during the seventh annual AsociaciĆ³n Mexicana de Bioseguridad Simposio held in Mexico City on June 3-6. Photo courtesy Irene Mendoza. Download Full Image

The ASU biosafety and biosecurity team has published several research papers in The Journal of the American Biological Safety Association and are considered to be experts in the field, said Mendoza, EHS associate biosafety officer.

“It was a great honor to be chosen to teach this course because there were attendees not only from Mexico but from other parts of Central and South America,” she said. “They consider U.S. regulations and guidance documents to be the best management practices in biosafety and biosecurity, and they want to use them as a baseline to develop their own programs.”

Mendoza’s field of expertise is synthetic biology, or synbio. She presented a basics course on the subject during the symposium.

Synbio is a rapidly growing field throughout the world, said Mendoza. It applies concepts from different fields, such as engineering, math, physics and biology, to design and build new biological systems and redesign existing natural biological systems for useful purposes. 

“Some people are against synbio and others support it; however, the great majority of people are not aware of this field and need more information,” said Mendoza. “Presenting this course allowed us to educate individuals about the history of synbio, current applications and security principles attendees can take back to their home institutions and countries to educate others.”

Knowledge gained during the symposium will enable participants to make the best decisions based on scientific evidence and best practices, said Mendoza.  They can also assist their home governments and institutions in developing applicable synbio regulations, practices and policies.

As a developing country, Mexico is very interested in synbio technology to increase food production, develop new biofuels and develop new pharmaceuticals and medical diagnostics, said Mendoza. Other countries are also interested due to geographical and other challenges they face.

“Some crops are difficult to grow in some countries, and shipping them from other areas is very expensive,” said Mendoza.  “By using synbio technology, some crops could be made to be more resistant and grow in harsher weather, grow in larger quantities, and be used to improve the soil and growing conditions.”

Mendoza also added that synbio technology could lead to more consistent crop yields and allow countries to feed larger numbers of people.

“This would benefit rural communities greatly,” she said.  

On the other hand, the rapid evolution of the synbio field presents substantial security implications, said Gillum, EHS associate director of biosafety and biosecurity.

“There is great potential for both harm and benefit, which is why biosafety and security needs to be included in all aspects of synbio projects,” said Gillum. “From the chemicals being used in the laboratory, to the people performing the work, to the final product created, all participants in the field need to be aware of these issues and participate in making the practice as safe and secure as possible.”

The courses and discussions led by the ASU team were well received by the conference organizers and participants, said Mendoza. ASU has already been invited to attend next year’s conference.

“I am honored and delighted to have been given the opportunity to address the members of this conference,” said Gillum. “It was an exciting opportunity to travel to Mexico City and demonstrate the good work we have been doing at ASU, and to represent ASU at this symposium focused on Latin America.” 

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Former tank platoon leader, Army Ranger named ASU Tillman scholars

June 11, 2015

Two Arizona State University veterans and graduate students at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College are among 60 service members, veterans and military spouses selected nationwide as Tillman Scholars for 2015.

The Pat Tillman Foundation named former U.S. Army soldiers Jameson Lopez, an education policy and evaluation doctorate student, and Joseph Wheaton, a master’s student majoring in secondary education, on Tuesday as two of the scholars who will benefit from the more than $1.7 million in scholarships awarded to this year’s class. man in Army Jameson Lopez, a former Army officer and current Arizona State University doctorate student at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, is one of 60 Tillman Scholars selected nationwide for the 2015 class. Photo courtesy Jameson Lopez. Download Full Image

“We’re very proud to have two of our ASU students selected as Tillman Scholars this year,” said Steve Borden, director of ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center. “Jameson and Joseph exemplify what it means to be scholars. They have an unyielding drive for academic learning, and combined with their combat veteran experience they seek to make a positive difference in the world around them.”      

Lopez is a Native American from the Kwat’san (Quechan) Tribe in Fort Yuma, California. He served as an Army officer from 2008 to 2012 and led a tank platoon in Iraq, coordinating combat missions with Kurdish security forces during Operation New Dawn. With his military experience and education, Lopez aims to serve as a leader in the education field and increase access to higher education for Native American communities.

“I am extremely humbled and grateful by the fact that I was selected as a scholar,” Lopez said. “To be amongst such a group is an honor, and it challenges me to continually be the best return for those who have invested so much into my life.”

Lopez is part of a strong tradition of Native Americans serving in the military: According to the Department of Defense, more Native Americans have volunteered for military service per capita than any other ethnic groups since the American Revolution.

“I have a lot of family who have fought in wars,” Lopez said. “I am part of my tribe’s warrior tradition that is carried amongst many other tribes, and therefore no different than my ancestors who have fought in wars before me.”   

A Maine native and 2014 Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law graduate, Wheaton served as a sniper squad leader for the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion during his nearly six years on active duty.

“Looking at those selected before me is humbling,” he said. “I have impossibly big shoes to fill.”  

Wheaton, who is also a Teach for America alumnus, said the scholarship will help fund the last year he has left on his master’s degree. He plans to apply his education to address education policy and lead change within the educational system.   

Founded in 2008, the Tillman Scholars program supports U.S. active-duty service members, veterans and military spouses by investing in their higher education. The scholarship program covers direct study-related expenses, including tuition and fees, books and living expenses, for scholars pursuing undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate degrees as full-time student at a public or private, U.S.-based accredited institution. The selection process is highly competitive with up to 60 Tillman Scholars chosen annually.

As a university partner with the Pat Tillman Foundation, ASU takes part in the selection process, said Christian Rauschenbach, program manager at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. This year’s committee had the tough job of choosing eight semifinalists out of 70 ASU students who applied; those eight semifinalists were entered into the national pool out of which the Tillman Foundation chose its 60 scholars.

“Joseph and Jameson’s applications definitely shone through as part of this process, and we are glad to see the Tillman Foundation confirm that,” Rauschenbach said. “My congratulations goes out to them both.”   

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications