Andrea Ravelo, a Ph.D.  candidate in Chris Pires' lab. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC
Andrea Ravelo, a Ph.D. candidate in Chris Pires’ lab. | photo by Allison Scott, Bond LSC

By Allison Scott | Bond Life Sciences Center

Mizzou is a family tradition for some. It’s passed down from generation to generation of Tigers as more and more family members join the lineage of “True Sons and Daughters.”

Andrea Ravelo, a Ph.D. candidate in Chris Pires’ Lab at Bond LSC, came to Mizzou to continue that trend.

“My parents went to Mizzou as graduate students when I was a baby,” Ravelo said. “After I finished my undergraduate degree, I decided to come back here, and it’s been good.”

But Ravelo didn’t have the typical academic journey. She spent nine years teaching high school before electing to go back to school.

“I enjoyed teaching, but I wanted to move back to research because I missed it when I was teaching,” Ravelo said.

And that’s exactly what she did. In the Pires lab, Ravelo works with endangered orchids alongside the Department of Conservation in Missouri.

“One of the things I wanted to do when I came back to research was plant conservation,” Ravelo said. “My research has been looking at the microbiome that associates with orchids and how that might affect the populations.”

This specific orchid species used to be found all throughout northern Missouri, but now, it’s only in certain pockets of the state. Ravelo works to figure out why that is and what the department can do to fix it.

The process isn’t as easy as it might sound, though. Because the plants are endangered, it’s a lot less hands-on than other projects.

“When you’re working with species that are endangered, you can’t just pull them up. You have to use a non-invasive approach,” Ravelo said.

That means the lab uses sequencing to try to determine what is preventing the orchids from thriving. Although they haven’t figured out the answers quite yet, the lab is hard at work to find the answers.

When she’s not in the lab, Ravelo spends her time working on a business she started with her husband.

“It’s a laser engraving business, so we mainly make custom gifts,” Ravelo said. “It was something my husband started, but I loved it. I like the freedom you get when you have your own business.”

And that freedom has inspired Ravelo in all she does.

Whether in the future she continues to work on growing her business or heads back to the lab, she’ll always be building on the foundation of knowledge she learned because of research.

“Once you’re in the mindset of learning, which is what we do here in lab, you can do anything,” Ravelo said.