Lorena Beatriz Norambuena Morales is
Full professor at the Centro de Biología Molecular Vegetal, Facultad de Ciencias,
Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.
She is the President elect of the Sociedad de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular de Chile (SBBMCh) for the period 2021 - 2022.
Can you introduce yourself and your line of research?
I define myself as a cell biologist. I studied chemistry and after several years of working as a research assistant I completed my master´s and PhD in biological sciences. From the beginning of my scientific career I have worked in Plant Biology.
Plants have developed systems to perceive and respond to various stimuli, biotic and abiotic, in order to adapt to changes in environmental conditions. Plant physiology and its ability to respond to an ever-changing environment rely on cellular function. Particularly, the plant endomembrane system and trafficking among its compartments are pivotal for plant performance at a physiological level. Our research has focused on unraveling mechanisms of endomembrane trafficking and its role in physiological and developmental responses in Arabidopsis thaliana over the course of several years. We study aspects of molecular cell biology which are pivotal for root development and plant responses to environmental cues. We study the regulation of protein and membrane trafficking among the plants’ endomembrane systems and their role on root architecture.
What have been your most important scientific contributions?
We have established an active role for endomembrane system trafficking on organogenesis in defining plant root architecture. In so doing we have demonstrated the power that chemical genetics has in unraveling essential cellular processes. Furthermore, our lab and its research have contributed to building a community of cell biologists in Chile working on plants.
What have been the main challenges that you have experienced throughout your academic and scientific career and how have you overcome those?
My scientific career has certainly presented constant challenges and that is one of the aspects of academia that I find particularly exciting. During my undergrad years, my core focus was on chemistry, primarily in the corporate and consultancy arenas. I then transitioned to a focus on biology. This was challenging since they were vastly different fields of study. These challenges often made me hesitant and caused me to reconsider whether I had made the right decision. However, there were also many rewards in other aspects that encouraged me to continue,most importantly, the encouragement of people in my scientific community and personal life. Along the way, I was able to prove to myself and my peers that I could persevere beyond the challenges that presented themselves and overcoming those challenges only bolstered me for going further and further into my studies each time.
What are the major challenges faced by female scientists at your Institution?
I think one of the core challenges faced by female scientists in my Institution is that women are presumed to be stronger in administrative tasks than our male counterparts and the tendency is to overload us with administrative functional tasks, taking away a considerable portion of our time from focusing on our field of study. Overcoming the administrative tasks and still allowing sufficient time for research, often becomes an overwhelming and exhausting task. Another challenge is the lack of a female presence in leadership positions, making it difficult to see ourselves in these types of roles and identify female mentors at a higher level. This is one of the glass ceilings that we must overcome in order to voice our opinions when decisions are being made. Nonetheless, the level of determination it takes to overcome some of these challenges contributes to a higher level of dedication towards change, modernization, inclusion and equality.
The Covid 19 pandemic has shown that a segment of the population does not believe in scientific evidence. In your opinion why is there this discredit of science? How to change this perception?
I think part of the reason scientific evidence is underrated in popular opinion is because the vast majority of the population does not have the tools to distinguish an expert from a non-expert nor can they easily distinguish the difference between evidence, fact and opinion. The amount of information that is available to people through the media and internet have blurred these lines to the point where people are unsure what to believe and therefore choose whatever “truth” is most convenient to them in their daily lives.
The education system has appealed to knowledge as being the major goal. Knowing what things are is valuable, but learning how to critically assimilate this knowledge is far more powerful in my opinion. Questioning and understanding information that is presented to us is far more valuable in life than accepting facts and information as they are. For example, thinking of electricity, we could either learn that electricity is something that is available to us and what it does, or we could learn to understand electricity as it relates to something else that we know and question how it comes to be as a function of what it does. How would we explain it to our mother, or to a stranger, or to a child? That is how we should approach the education of people in any subject.
In this sense, it is my opinion that we should encourage and motivate people to observe the world around us. Encourage questions without punishing their simplicity, assumptions and potentially wrong answers. We must encourage people to ask for the information they feel that they need in order to understand a certain subject. We require evidence to support the explanations of phenomena and events in our real life. This is a big challenge we must work with every day.
Plant plasticity relays on Cell Molecular Mechanisms