This Rutgers Office for Research article features María Gloria Domínguez-Bello, Henry Rutgers Professor of Microbiome and Health, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology.
National Hispanic Heritage Month honors Hispanic and Latino Americans, who represent a wide variety of cultures, beliefs, backgrounds, and nationalities, and who have made countless contributions to society and our communities. The Office for Research (OfR) joins Rutgers University in celebrating the accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans.
Domínguez-Bello was one of four Rutgers professors, one from each Chancellor-led unit, to be highlighted by OfR. She discussed her research and what National Hispanic Heritage Month means to her.
What is the focus of your research and its potential impact?
My research is focused on trying to elucidate the mechanisms by which the microbiome (our adapted microbes that live on us) makes us healthy, the effects of stressors on our microbiome, and how to restore it.
What inspired you to focus on this particular area of research, and what inspires you now?
I was fascinated by organs that function thanks to microorganisms, such as digestive organs in animals like the rumen of cows, or the crop of a unique South American bird, the hoatzin, that ferments like the cow rumen.
In what ways has your background, culture, and heritage impacted who you are and the research you do?
I grew up with a lot of contact with nature, in the tropics, on my grandfather’s farm. My ancestry is Spaniard, but I grew up in rural Venezuela, in a very diverse environment of locals and immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. I developed, from a very early age, an enormous respect and love for nature, for cultures, for foods.
What has your experience been like as a Hispanic/Latinx person working in research or in your field of research?
I did my training in Venezuela and then Scotland, did postdocs in France and Spain, then started my career in Venezuela and Puerto Rico before coming to mainland US. Research and science are like the arts, a universal métier, with a lot of diverse people from different origins. In the US, it is remarkable how so many top institutions attract the brightest minds of the world, from all countries and ethnicities. I found many Hispanic and Latinos, and many women such as myself, had the privilege of opportunities, and are currently in academia.
All over the world, poor socioeconomic conditions, prejudice, and discrimination restrict the path needed for bright minds to excel in a fair competition. Many talents, potential artists, and scientists were never able to develop their careers to their fullest potential.
How can diversity and inclusion in academia and within research universities be improved? What do you feel is the most critical issue facing people of Hispanic/Latinx heritage in higher ed, and what do you believe could and/or should be done about it?
Universities should engage very seriously in leveraging bright students from poor families to prepare them to excel in the competition for college. A scholarship to offer a pre-college year that enables motivated and bright students to compete in equal opportunities, much as the pre-med leverages students that lack formation in sciences. If talented people were given the opportunity, we would have a much better society.
Read more at Rutgers Office for Research.