|Entrance to the Tlahuizcalpan building of the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“This opens up new ways of thinking about the deleterious effects of ethanol consumption,” says Riveros-Rosas. “People who drink heavily can acquire ethanol concentrations in their blood that reach the millimolar range. Even though ethanol is not the preferred substrate, this amount can significantly impair the metabolism of natural ADH substrates, which occur in the micromolar range.”
(Interestingly, like the moonlighting proteins he studies, Riveros-Rosas conducted a secondary project on the chemistry of air pollution with the National Institute of Ecology during this time; his team’s work provided some of the necessary data to push the Mexican government to prohibit the addition of lead to gasoline.)
Since starting his own lab several years back, Riveros-Rosas has been eagerly following up those initial studies with more detailed evolutionary analyses into the roles of ADHs and ALDHs in animals. His group also is employing bioinformatic and phylogenetic tools to obtain broader insight into the forces that drive enzyme evolution, using both ADHs and chromate transporters as model systems.
That such an intriguing discovery would come from Mexico is both surprising and expected, Riveros-Rosas thinks. While Mexico is considered an emerging country in research, he notes, it does have a respected biochemical history.
Back in the 19th century, Leopoldo Rio de la Loza, who founded Mexico’s National Academy of Medicine in 1864, was honored by many scientific societies in Europe and the United States for his pioneering work introducing chemistry into medicine. Later, Juan Roca Olivé, who spent several years working with Journal of Biological Chemistry co-founder John Abel at the Johns Hopkins University, brought the concept of physiological chemistry to Mexico and became the country’s first great biochemistry teacher.
At the same time, limited funding, equipment and even lab space did prevent research in Mexico from really blossoming. However, some economic changes in the past couple of decades have enabled the creation of many new research laboratories in several Mexican universities and also have improved the number of grants available.
“On the other hand, this increased research development has not yet reached the job sector,” Riveros-Rosas says. “Recent graduates have been encountering problems finding jobs, and this is discouraging new students from enrolling in master’s or Ph.D. programs.”
Still, Riveros-Rosas has been encouraged by the growth and believes the situation will balance out eventually. In his own life, the recently tenured professor is looking forward to leaving Mexico temporarily for a sabbatical to further enrich his training and get a taste of the outside world.