#IAmScience Norma Castro-Guerrero

By Becca Wolf | Bond LSC

If you like your work, you won’t ever work a day in your life.

That’s the case for Norma Castro-Guerrero, a research scientist in David Mendoza’s lab at Bond Life Sciences Center. Having a good attitude and making the most of everything is something she strives to do.

“I wake up every day and I am already thinking about what I need to do,” Castro-Guerrero said. “Time flies by during the day. I think that’s a way to know that you love what you do.”

She first witnessed this attitude in action from a principal investigator (PI) in her undergraduate studies at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in her hometown of Mexico City, Mexico. This PI soon became an influential role model in Castro-Guerrero’s life.

“She was such a strong woman and full of enthusiasm for science,” Castro-Guerrero said, “She was so supportive, ‘You’re a woman and you will do great, getting the best grades and publishing papers.’ From there, I think it was very natural to me to keep studying and publishing during my Ph.D. and postdoctorate.”

Castro-Guerrero has implemented this enthusiasm in the Mendoza lab, where she oversees research projects and students. As a senior scientist, she trains the students on how to run a successful lab. She knows firsthand how important an encouraging environment can be for student growth.

“What you want to teach them is how important it is to have a healthy environment to achieve their goals. It’s not only teaching them the techniques or basics, it’s also that they feel comfortable and happy in the lab because they will be more efficient,” she said.

The Mendoza lab gives her the opportunity to express this enthusiasm. Castro-Guerrero enjoys the freedom she has to study her own ideas. Everyone is encouraged to make decisions and solve problems they feel are important.

Castro-Guerrero currently focuses on studying micronutrients in legumes like common bean and soybean, crops used in communities that suffer from nutrient deficiencies. She is looking at what mechanisms the legumes are using compared to other crops that make them accumulate more of these elements. Understanding the key factors will be useful to design better crops.

“Some people’s diet depends on these seeds, so improving them is a perfect vehicle to improve their health,” Castro-Guerrero said.

To further this study, Castro-Guerrero and her team have collaborated with people in South Africa and Mexico to improve the well-being of communities. Helping others motivates her, and this project is rewarding in more ways than one.

Aside from science, Castro-Guerrero’s other passion in life is traveling. And here at Bond LSC, she was able to combine these two passions.

In the past several years, Castro-Guerrero was able to travel to Asia and Africa to discuss research the Mendoza lab is working on at symposiums and other events.

“I really enjoy that people notice what we are doing in Missouri. They know that in the middle of United States we’re doing this great science, and they look for collaboration with us,” Castro-Guerrero said. “So, when you go there and they say start dropping names of people in this building [Bond LSC], we know we are in the right place. Being able to see the recognition not only the university but your own building is getting outside the country, I really enjoy that.”

Castro-Guerrero gets as much as she can out of her international science trips. “I know how people work in Mexico and in the United States. There are differences and it’s very enriching to see how other places work. Their dynamics, their strategies, you learn from them. I think it’s neat to be able to interact with other scientific communities,” Castro-Guerrero said.

“In my lab, the students observe you doing this, talking, writing, discussing, and they want to follow you like I did with my PI in the past,” Castro-Guerrero said, “You see them get excited that they’re working on at Bond LSC. And we are happy and proud of that.”

Science has allowed Castro-Guerrero to wake up every day excited about what it will bring. Whether it is supervising students in the lab, conducting research, or traveling around the world, she is ready for anything.

“I love it, I don’t want to do anything else,” Castro-Guerrero said, then pauses, “Except traveling. But traveling the world while doing science is even better.”