Damar Lopez-Arredondo was still a high school student when she first heard about the impact of biotechnology on quality of life. During a Science and Technology Day talk, two researchers from the Autonomous University of Sinaloa and Cinvestav showed her that in Mexico there are leading institutions dedicated to studying many problems agriculture and health related problems. “I thought what they told us was so amazing, I decided I wanted to be part of the team that solves these problems, ” recalls the young woman, who is a biochemical engineer, plant geneticist and businesswoman.
At age 28, this researcher is already one of the most prominent experts in “green” biotechnology (in other words, biotechnology applied to agricultural processes) in the country, thanks in great measure to the progress achieved during her doctoral thesis, which focuses on designing molecular systems that optimize the use of phosphorus by many plants of bioenergetics, agronomic interest.
Phosphorus, an essential nutrient for plant growth, is a non-renewable resource whose world reserves are rapidly declining. The availability of phosphate - the phosphorus compound that plants take from the environment - is very low in most of the arable land on the planet, leading to unproductive crops unless fertilizers rich in phosphates are used.
Lopez-Arredondo has designed a gene that, when incorporated into the plants, allows them to metabolize a different phosphorus compound than the phosphate they absorb naturally from the environment: phosphite, which also acts as a herbicide and fungicide. Thanks to this gene, transgenic plants assimilate the phosphite, which is later converted into the phosphate they require for growth. This in turn reduces the amount of fertilizers and herbicides required by farmers, because weeds - unable to assimilate phosphite - do not compete for it. According to Lopez-Arredondo, the use of this new product "decreases the amount of fertilizer required by 30 to 50 percent, it removes or reduces the use of herbicides, and is harmless to humans and animals".