Born and raised in Colombia, Ana is a marine biologist who became enamored with cyanobacteria during her bachelors at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University. Since then, every project she has taken on has always been related to these fascinating organisms. During her master’s at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria she studied biofilm forming cyanobacteria at the Canary Islands (Spain). Later, during her Ph.D. at Arizona State University, she studied the ecology and physiology of biocrust-forming cyanobacteria in North American deserts (USA).
For her dissertation research, Ana studied cyanobacteria from biological soil crusts (biocrusts), microbial topsoil communities that are crucial to maintaining soil fertility and erosion resistance in arid land systems. Ana was able to unravel the physiological mechanisms that control the establishment of cyanobacteria in these communities by discovering a symbiotic relationship between biocrust pioneer cyanobacteria and nitrogen-fixing heterotrophs, the key to the early establishment of these soil communities. This discovery aided in her ultimately goal of developing the first comprehensive "cyanobacterial biocrust nursery”, a new interdisciplinary application of microbiology and restoration ecology to implement accelerated biocrust restoration strategies.
As a Rice Academy Fellow, Ana will be joining the laboratory of Professor Carrie Masiello to investigate how biocrust’s ability to trap dust facilitates fertilization of arid lands. Ana is interested in studying how these microbial communities (cyanobacteria in particular) respond to dust nutrients inputs and how these nutrient inputs are mobilized both within the biocrust and to the soil layers beneath. This research will aid in understanding the role of understudied microbial communities in the cycling of macro- and micronutrients which are considered major players in regulating the productivity of arid lands.
Outside of her research, Ana enjoys spending her time with family and friends, especially when food is involved. Her dream activities involve any outdoor adventure where she can enjoy exploring new landscapes.