Trust Your Gut: How This Colombian Scientist Found Her Field

Posted: Mar 02, 2020

A life-long passion for the microbes that live inside us has taken Leonor Garcia-Bayona to the US to study the microbiome of people from all over the world, not just developed countries.

“I remember in elementary school, I wrote a short story about some kids going on an adventure traveling inside a microbe!” she said, “My dad is a pediatrician and used to tell us stories about an evil Salmonella making kids sick, so I guess that’s where I got it from!”

“By the time I entered college at the Universidad de los Andes (in Bogota), I thought being a scientist was not for people like me,” she said.

She chose to study chemical engineering, but her scholarship also allowed her to double-major in microbiology – and she’s been focused on microbes ever since.

Garcia-Bayona says when she joined the Comstock lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School they had a “very nice collection of bacteria” isolated form the gut of healthy people.

Today In: Innovation
“I decided to focus on a few of the ecosystems isolated from people from developing countries, and right away started finding all sorts of interesting genes that are much less prevalent in Americans and Europeans,” she said.

“It turns out one of the most interesting ecosystems was actually isolated from a Colombian (not me!)”

“The gut microbiome plays a key role in human health and development, so it is one of the hottest research areas right now in the life sciences,” she said, adding that the long-term goal of the field is to design treatments of diseases from everything from inflammatory bowel disease to autism.

Garcia-Bayona says our understanding of what determines which bacteria are present in our gut and how they interact with each other and with us, their human host is really in very early stages.

By Andrew Wight
March 1, 2020
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