Teresa Hernández-Sotomayor is full professor at the Plant Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Unit at the Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán.
She is President of the Sociedad Mexicana de Bioquímica (SMB) for the period 2021-2023.
Can you introduce yourself and your line of research?
I define myself as a biochemist focused on signaling transduction mechanisms. I am Mexican by birth and carried out my undergraduate and graduate studies (Masters and PhD) at UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México). After a post-doctoral period at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee, USA), I began working at the Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán, CICY. I have been involved in a wide range of national and international academic programs and have held several appointments, such as: 1) at North Carolina State University, with the support from the summer program in the U.S.A for young researchers of the Mexican Academy of Science and the México-U.S.A Foundation; 2) a sabbatical stay at Glasgow University, Scotland, with the support of the same Institution; 3) at Dundee University, Scotland, with the support of the Royal Academy of Science and the Mexican Academy of Science; 4) at the Instituto Hideyo Noguchi from Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán and 5) a sabbatical stay at the Centro de Investigación y Asistencia de Tecnología y Diseño del Estado de Jalisco (CIATEJ), Southeast unit with the assistance of CONACYT.
My line of research is the study of different biotic and abiotic signals in plant and animal models. A full understanding of how these processes operate at the basic level is fundamental for proposing alternative eco-friendly biotechnologies to counter adverse conditions. These include high levels of aluminum or pathogens present in the soil that could affect and devastate crops like habanero pepper and coffee, which are two of the most prominent crops in my country.
What have been your most important scientific contributions?
The main contribution of my work in signal transduction has been the description for the first time of the phosphorylation of tyrosine residues in the enzyme phospholipase C gamma. This knowledge has been the basis for the design of specific inhibitors for the enzyme, that are used nowadays as a potential anticancer treatment. Also, my research has provided proof of the phosphorylation of proteins on tyrosine residues in plants, and that this process is fundamental for embryonic development. My group was one of the first to conclusively demonstrate this phenomenon. It is now known that this form of phosphorylation is present in different types of vegetable protein where it could modulate responses to extreme conditions. Furthermore, my laboratory has contributed to building a community of scientists that works on signal transduction mechanisms in plants.
What have been the main challenges that you have experienced throughout your academic and scientific career and how have you overcome them?
I believe the major challenge in my career was leaving my country to go to another where I couldn’t even speak the language. This was as a post-doc. Nevertheless it was a great achievement in the end, due to the fact that my stay was scheduled to last for only a year but I ended up staying for four! As for how to confront and overcome this challenge - it was purely by dedication and hard work in the laboratory which led to the discovery of important evidence for signal transduction mechanisms.
What are the major challenges faced by female scientists at your Institution?
At CICY a policy has been implemented which establishes equality in salary and labor rights for women as well as their appointment to management roles. Perhaps, the major challenge would be for the Institution to be led by a woman.
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?
In my opinion, it all depends on the way in which scientists approach members of the general population who, in general, do not have a scientific upbringing. Scientists need to make knowledge more accessible by using multiple media outlets and by more efficient outreach. Starting with the younger generations, elementary schools and other forums ought to be the right place for unfurling scientific knowledge via podcasts, journals, social media etc.