Kaitlyn Varela, Senior Biochemistry Major
By Lauren Moriarty
Kaitlyn Varela never planned to graduate from UTSA. As a participant in the UT Austin Coordinated Admission Program (CAP), she intended to transfer to UT Austin after her first year at UTSA. But when it was time to make her decision, there was something about UTSA that made it hard to leave. "I came to UTSA and just loved it here so I decided to stay," she explains.
Now a senior, the San Antonio native and Biochemistry major is busy conducting research on antimalarial drugs in Dr. Yoshimoto’s lab. "I work on artemisinin, an antimalarial drug," she says. "We’re looking at elucidating the mechanism of its endoperoxide formation, which gives it its antimalarial properties. If we understand how it is being made in nature, we can understand how other antimalarial drugs are made in nature." The research is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was the cover story for the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Natural Products. “Our research would help in the mass production of artemisinin because we look at the actual rate of formation over time, from its precursor in the plant to understand how it is being made in nature," Kaitlyn says. "No one really understands how it is spontaneously happening."
Biochemistry is the ideal major for Kaitlyn, who is a UTSA RISE Trainee, because it combines both of her interests. "In high school I took AP chemistry and AP biology," she says. "I became a Biochemistry major because I wanted to do both. The research that I’m doing is a combination of biology and chemistry because we’re solving a biological problem through chemical synthesis." Kaitlyn hopes to continue her academic journey in UTSA’s chemistry Ph.D. program. "I love how it’s a huge community," she says of UTSA. "It’s really diverse but we’re also really connected. We all support each other. I’ve had nothing but support since I’ve been here."