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This Guatemalan Woman In STEM Is Unlocking The Secrets Of Bats

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During the pandemic, Ana Lucía Arévalo, a 23-year-old Guatemalan biologist, had to stop her thesis into bats, but that hasn’t stopped her from helping a global effort to sequence the genomes of every bat species on Earth.

Arévalo, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, is currently the Education Coordinator for the Guatemala’s Bat Conservation Program (PCMG, by its initials in spanish).

“This organization is made up of a group of experts (biologists, vets, environmental engineers, etc.) who are passionate about bats,” she says, adding that they work under 3 main objectives: bat conservation, research and environmental education.

“Every day we work hard to change the negative perception of bats and demystify these animals which are a key component of tropical forests as indicators of ecosystem health and providers of ecosystem services, ” she said, “much of our work is also based on informing the population about the importance of these animals and the way in which humans can coexist with them.

Arévalo also recently joined the Bat1K Genome Project as a regional chair.

This global initiative led by Emma Teeling, PhD. and Sonja Vernes, PhD., which seeks to sequence the genome 1,300 bat species, almost every living bat species in the world.

Arévalo says the main goal of this project is to uncover the genes and genetic mechanisms behind the adaptations of bats and mining the bat genome to uncover their secrets.

Falling in Love with Bats

Arévalo was born and raised in Guatemala City, fortunately within a family that was able to give her access to the highest quality education.

“Since a very young age I had great admiration for scientists such as Marie Curie and Jane Goodall, who motivated me to pursue a scientific career,” she says, adding that by the age of 14, she already knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to science even if she was unsure of what to pursue.

“I discovered my true passion a few years ago when I had the opportunity to hold a bat in my hands, ” she said, “I fell in love with their cute little faces and the complexity of their appearance; from that moment on I decided that I had to know EVERYTHING about these animals.”

Arévalo says being a female scientist in Guatemala can be sometimes a bit daunting.

“One of the greatest challenges scientists face is the scarce funds allocated to research, as only 0.029% of Guatemala’s GDP (gross domestic product) is invested in science and technology each year,” she says.

Arévalo says the gender gap in scientific careers in Latin America continues to be very large.

“Many girls do not fulfill their dream of being a scientist due to the dream gap and the lack of access to education,” she says, adding that it is also a huge challenge to conserve wildlife in Guatemala, due to the scarce support we receive from government institutions and the conflict within some of the country’s protected areas, as a result of a lack of state presence and crimes against environmental leaders. 

“For Latina women scientists it is really difficult to stand out in this field, since many times we do not have access to many resources, which forces us to move to other countries to continue our studies,” she says, “I dream that soon, more girls could have access to quality education and could be able to pursue their dream like me.”

Another young biologist in the region is Diana Zendejo. She’s tapping into the traditional knowledge of local people and her own understanding of ranching culture in her home country to help save Mexico’s black bears.

MORE FROM FORBESCan This Scientist End War Between Farmers And Mexico’s Biggest Bear?

Zendejo says she is now living her “bear-dream” with her “Walking with Black Bears” project and collaborating with an anthropologist friend about the inclusion of rural sociology practices and knowledge in ecological restoration projects, and how this could improve results and relations between different types of professions.



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