Daniel Romo is the Schotts Professor of Chemistry at Baylor University and Co-Director of the CPRIT Synthesis and Drug-Lead Discovery Laboratory. During the 2016 National Hispanic Education Summit hosted by Baylor University, Romo sat down with Andrea Ramirez, the executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition of the NHCLC, to discuss how his love of science is rooted in his love of God.
Romo is a second-generation Mexican American, the father of four and husband to Laura Romo. He has a particular interest in the intersection of science and Christian faith.
What would you like to say to students who have an interest in science at a young age? And what would you like to share with parents or grandparents who fear that science and faith don’t mix?
One of my heroes in science is Johannes Kepler, who was probably the first physical astronomer. He actually broke out in song because he discovered something really cool in science and astronomy. He wrote about it in a notebook, giving glory to God for that new finding. The idea that we “explore the world that God created” really resonates with me. And it’s basically what I do.
We have a way, as scientists, to explore the world and try to understand what God created. He gave us a playground, if you will, to actually go and explore the world.
I've never heard science described that way. It’s an interesting word picture to help us experience joy in exploring His creation and to see scientific study as a gift. I know you see the Lord's hand in cancer research.
Yes, we enjoy funding that allows us to do research on the treatment side of cancer prevention and treatment. We're interested in identifying new compounds that might have potential as anti-cancer agents.
I can tell you a little bit about natural products because that's my area of expertise. What are natural products? They are compounds isolated from natural sources. For example, God has created bacteria and plants with an incredible capacity to make small molecules, which scientists can use to understand more about the cell. We study how cells function, both normal cells and cancer cells. We harvest the information that God indirectly gave us through these small molecules. Due to our study and the work of others, these compounds are often being used now to treat cancer.
In reference to small molecules, are these molecules in items that we eat? Or where do we find these potential molecules?
These molecules come from, for example, bacteria. These bacteria produce small molecules for a variety of reasons including self-defense. Bacteria will produce compounds like antibiotics that kill other bacteria. We can study those molecules and use them to combat other bacteria, bacteria that affect human bodies.
Likewise, plants have produced compounds, natural products, which are being used clinically for cancer treatment. These are small molecules that natural organisms produce. But humans have been able to harvest this information because the small molecules interact with proteins we find inside cells.
I know many of our readers have been impacted by cancer, in one way or another. My mom is a cancer survivor, and we recently lost a friend to cancer. So your work is really impacting future generations to keep their family members longer here on earth to enjoy rich relationships and bring glory to God. Moms, dads, and grandparents can live healthy lives longer and share their influence and wisdom.
Some of those young people who have an interest in science now, in grade school or high school, may find that God is inviting them into this legacy of research focused on natural products that benefit cancer prevention and treatment. It's a part of our scientific playground in the natural world. That's such a great word picture.