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  SPRING 2012

   Society for Developmental Biology

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Interview with Colombian scientist Diana Marcela Bolaños

Diana Marcela Bolaños did her graduate work on polyclad flatworms with Marian Litvaitis at the University of New Hampshire.  In 2010, she was awarded a UNESCO-L'oreal Fellowship to complete postdoctoral research in evolutionary developmental biology with Federico Brown at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia where she was already a visiting professor.  Today, Bolaños is an assistant professor in the Biology Program of the College of Exact and Natural Sciences at the Universidad de Cartagena in Colombia where she teaches cell and developmental biology. She recently participated in the 2012 SDB-LASDB PASI Short Course in Montevideo, Uruguay.

What motivated you to return to Colombia after completing your doctorate in the United States?

The main two reasons to go back to Colombia were family and the poor situation of science in Colombia. For me it was especially difficult to be apart [from] my parents, and I always wanted to live close to them. Although my husband and daughter are from the USA, I wanted my parents to be able to spend time with us and especially for my daughter to grow up with her grandparents. On the other hand, Colombia lacks highly skilled scientists. Many Colombians have the opportunity to earn their PhD internationally, but unfortunately, because of the few opportunities in our country they do not return. So in that matter, I wanted to help the country by filling that gap and furthering science and research in the country.

Are there particular challenges that you face doing research in Colombia compared to the United States?

The main challenge I face in Colombia is finding support and funding for research. There are very few entities (private or public) supporting research and they represent the only pool of money for all the research in the country, so they are competitive and insufficient. Another challenge is the inadequate conditions of the infrastructure in the universities regarding laboratories for research.

What is your current research on?

Currently, I work on the embryonic development and patterns and processes of regeneration of marine polyclad flatworms. Polyclads have the same system of stem cell as the well known planarians, however, their potential for regeneration is limited and restricted. I'm trying to compare and find out what are the molecular mechanisms of regeneration in polyclads and why they are different from those in planarians and other platyhelminths.

Why did you want to attend the SDB-LASDB PASI short course?

I wanted to attend to the course because I'm not a developmental biologist but my current research involves this area. All my research has been about systematics and phylogeny of polyclads and now I'm trying to address some questions from an evo-devo point of view. The course seemed to be a great opportunity for me to be introduced to this field and to meet excellent professors and well recognized people in the area to learn from them and get ideas and feedback about my research.

What were your highlights from the course?

I truly found the entire course to be a highlight, every professor was absolutely interesting and showed us new things. I really learned from all of them; but if I have to pick, I really enjoyed meeting Walter Gehring and the lecture by Detlev Arendt.

Was there one thing you learned that you could take back and immediately apply to your research?  

As I mentioned before I learned from all the professors and got good ideas to apply to my research in the future, but the most immediate application of what I learned will be the techniques and procedures taught by Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado regarding planarian regeneration.

What are your future plans?

Despite having a faculty position in my home country, I would like to do a postdoc in the field of developmental biology to obtain better training in this fascinating field.