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Caribbean Division Conference Honors Pioneer in Puerto Rican Genetic Studies

The complex connections between genes, environment, and society will be the focus of the AAAS Caribbean Division’s annual conference, which convenes on 1 October on the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus.

The 2011 conference is dedicated to Juan Carlos Martínez Cruzado, a researcher in the biology department at UPR-Mayagüez and a pioneer in mitochondrial DNA studies that link Puerto Rico’s original indigenous population to its current population. Cruzado will deliver the conference’s plenary lecture on indigenous genetic heredity in Puerto Rico.

“We wanted to honor his work,” explained Division President Jorge Colón, “especially since the discoveries Cruzado has been making may have implications for those interested in treating medical conditions that are prevalent in the Puerto Rican population.”

The conference will also include a session on genes and the environment, organized by Abel Baerga, a biochemist from the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico and president-elect of the Caribbean Division. And in keeping with the theme, elementary, middle school, and high school students and teachers can participate in workshops developed by UPR-Mayagüez biologist Carlos Ríos Velázquez that focus on the intersection of genes, society, and the environment.

Jorge Colón, AAAS Caribbean Division president

In addition, the 2011 Lucy Gaspar Award for Excellence in Science Education will be awarded to Carmen N. Ruíz-Méndez, a science teacher from the Central for Visual Arts High School in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Other events at the conference include the annual Robert I. Larus poster competition for graduate students, and a session in honor of the International Year of Chemistry, organized by Juan López Garriga, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of UPR-Mayagüez. Daniel Altschuler, the former director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, will deliver a lecture on science, pseudoscience, and education. Altschuler was the plenary speaker at the division’s 2009 conference.


Juan Carlos Martínez Cruzado | Courtesy: UPR-Mayagüez

This year’s division conference also coincides with the 100th anniversary of UPR’s Mayagüez campus, “so we are joining the celebration with our conference,” Colón said. On 30 September, the division will host one of its popular Science Cafés, open to the public, featuring forensic anthropologist and bioarchaeologist Edwin Crespo from UPR’s Río Piedras campus.


The Caribbean Division was founded in 1985 to create a hub for AAAS members in all of the islands and countries in the Caribbean region, from Venezuela up through the Dominican Republic and Haiti to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

The AAAS Board of Directors authorized the organization of the Caribbean Division in 1984 during a meeting in New York. The division met for the first time on 26 February 1985 in Puerto Rico. The late Juan Bonnet-Diez, who once served as director of the Nuclear Center at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and of the university’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, was the division’s founder and first president.

The conference will be held 1 October in the Biology Building on the UPR- Mayagüez campus, with sessions running from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To register for the conference, contact Jorge Colón at


See the full program in Spanish and English for the annual conference of the AAAS Caribbean Division, to be held 1 October in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.

Lea este artículo en español.

Learn more about the AAAS Caribbean Division and about the other AAAS regional divisions —Arctic, Southwest/Rocky Mountain, and Pacific.




Becky Ham