Benny Mosqueira

Porter; molecular, cell and developmental biology

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Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta
The closing of labs on the UC Santa Cruz campus during the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop Benny Mosqueira from his research.

The 22-year-old Porter College student, who will graduate this year with a bachelor’s degree in molecular, cell and developmental biology, simply shifted his research focus to bioinformatics.

Part of Associate Professor of MCD Biology Susan Carpenter’s lab and yet hundreds of miles from campus at his mother’s Inglewood, Calif., home, Mosqueira learned new computational methods to allow him to work remotely.

Hunched for hours over his computer, Mosqueira eventually completed an RNA-sequencing pipeline in order to understand the characteristics of a long, noncoding RNA called LincRNA-Cox2, he said. This long noncoding RNA works in several ways to regulate genes involved in inflammation. Chronic inflammation in humans can give rise to a variety of illnesses, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, and cardiovascular disease.

His work led to the co-authorship of a scientific paper published in the Journal of Immunology that described the role of LincRNA-Cox2 in lung injury. It also solidified his path in life.

Raised by a hard-working, single mom in Southern California, Mosqueira knew what it was like to struggle financially and felt driven “to make something of myself.” Encouraged by his mother and by scholarships offered at UC Santa Cruz, he arrived on campus intending to become a medical doctor.

Instead, the first-generation college student was captivated by the research opportunities he found at UC Santa Cruz—including work in three on-campus labs and the chance to use technology like cloning, CRISPR, and RNA sequencing—and decided to pursue biomedical research as a career.

“I like research because it is just really pushing boundaries,” Mosqueira said. To be able to discover information that was previously unknown and use that to benefit people “really brings it all together,” he added.

His plans now are to find a job with a biotechnology company, pay off his student loans, and then go to graduate school with the goal of becoming a principal investigator in a university setting.

His four years on campus also will leave his mark on UC Santa Cruz.

As the undergraduate representative in the Physical and Biological Sciences Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, Mosquiera helped start the Work-Study Research Initiative for students who need financial support.

Low-income students, he explained, often need to have work-study jobs to afford college, but many of the jobs are in places like the library or dining halls, which might not contribute to the student’s success in their career, he said.

“The program we launched actually provides students with meaningful experience in research labs while being paid and being part of a community in college,” said Mosqueira, who was a SEMILLA Scholar his first year at UC Santa Cruz. “This is crucial for students’ success.”

In addition, he served as a mentor to freshman STEM students as part of the campus’s Mentor Collective.

When he looks back at his years at UC Santa Cruz, Mosquiera said, "I’m just so amazed by everything that has happened and the experiences I have had. To think about my future is exciting.”