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December 2020 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Omar Holguin, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Omar Holguin, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Omar Holguin, an Associate Professor for the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PES) in the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU). He currently mentors seven PhD students and one MS graduate student alongside teaching classes on sampling and analysis of environmental contaminants, and an undergraduate seminar. Omar teaches other courses, as needed, such as the principle of genetics and intro to organic chemistry. Holguin has expressed that student mentoring is one of the most important aspects of his position, and “it is important to provide an environment where students can achieve their greatest potential while allowing them to become independent thinkers and researchers.”

Omar received his professional education entirely from NMSU. He obtained his BS in Environmental Science specializing in environmental chemistry (2002), an MS in Agronomy focusing on natural product isolation (2005), and a PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences with an emphasis on mass spectral analysis of plant metabolism (2012). Before reaching his current position as Associate Professor, Holguin served in various other roles at NMSU during his research career. He was hired as a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety Chemical Analysis and Instrumentation Laboratory (2010-2012), Metabolomics Laboratory Manager for PES (2007-2010), and The Counter Terrorism Chemical Technologies Laboratory Director at the Physical Science Laboratory (2005-2007). Holguin has held several other NMSU administrator appointments.

Omar has collaborated with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) for many years. He considers his most significant contributions to the Institute to be in student mentoring and training to use chemical instrumentation. Holguin has been available to provide a jump start for several projects using various analytical instrumentation. At present, Omar advises Sergei Shalygin, a PhD student who was awarded an FY20-21 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Assessment of the cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and toxins in the blooming water bodies of New Mexico. Sergei’s project aims to detect cyanobacterial toxins in the blooming waters of New Mexico, which can be deadly for both humans and animals. These cHAB toxins have been the cause for alarm since the summer of 2019 when sizable traces were found in the Abiquiu and Cochiti lakes. The outcome of this study is to essentially provide the groundwork for a state/federal monitoring program for irrigation and recreational water bodies currently absent from New Mexico.

In addition to assisting in Sergei’s work, Omar and his colleagues are currently investigating how they can produce and use co-products found in microorganisms and plants. Holguin is passionate about research in this area, and he states that the overall goal of these studies is to help improve the current bioeconomy and make alternative sources of starting materials for other industrial practices, renewable energy feedstocks, or nutraceuticals. Holguin attributes his work efforts in polyunsaturated fatty metabolism and lipid accumulation in microalgae in helping him create significant collaborations with several other organizations. Among those collaborators include the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions consisting of numerous partners such as The University of Arizona, Bridgestone America, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Colorado State University.

With 50 published peer-reviewed journal articles and several in review, Omar Holguin’s research is extensive and covers numerous topics related to agriculture, water treatment, biofuel, and others. He has been an invited speaker for several meetings and symposiums including being the keynote speaker for the Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience at NMSU, where he gave a presentation entitled, Food, Water, Energy and Environmental Research (2018). One of the more recent studies Omar contributed to was published in the HortScience journal entitled, Nutraceutical Properties of Pecan Kernels Are Affected by Soil Zinc Fertilizer Application (2020). The research investigated the effects of tree zinc fertilization on nutraceutical properties of ‘Wichita’ and ‘Western’ pecan kernels. In addition to his research, Holguin and his colleagues are the owners of two intellectual property patents entitled, Subcritical water extraction of lipids from wet algal biomass (2012), and D. Innoxia Withanolides with Specific Anti-Cancer Activities (2010).

Regarding his future career goals, Holguin has expressed that he wants to make contributions to science that help society tackle current environmental concerns and health disparities. Omar also plans to continue his working relationship with NM WRRI by proceeding with his observations of water quality parameters and detection of contaminates of emerging concern. Outside the NM WRRI program, Holguin mentioned that he and his colleagues will continue their collaborations by looking at how they can make a stronger bioeconomy through improved renewable energy feedstocks, which can identify human beneficial co-products from agricultural and biofuel processes.

As a parting message, Omar would like to extend his sincerest appreciation for the unwavering support he has been given by his family, colleagues, NMSU staff, and students. He states that he has been fortunate to have such a dedicated support system, and their encouragement has led him to be successful in his career and gave him the motivation to accomplish what he has to this date.