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Dr Patricia Sanchez Baracaldo

Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow

School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

Co-evolution of life and the biosphere

Dr. Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow. Patricia studies the evolutionary history of cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae). Cyanobacteria were the first organisms to produce oxygen, transforming the Earth's atmosphere. Patricia's research aims to understand how cyanobacteria have contributed to the Earth's global nutrient cycles such as nitrogen and carbon through geological time. Her research has shown that evolutionary innovations in cyanobacteria have played a role in regulating the global environment and past climatic events. Patricia obtained her biology degree from Los Andes University, Colombia. After finishing her undergraduate, Patricia was awarded a highly competitive fellowship to work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. She did her PhD in plant evolutionary biology in the department of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. As a postdoctoral researcher, Patricia worked on the molecular ecology of cyanobacteria at Bristol University. She then had a career break to look after her young family and returned to science with a Daphne Jackson and Dorothy Hodgkin Royal Society Fellowship in 2011.

When Dr Sanchez Baracaldo decided to start a family, she planned to take a year off with each baby, “and I don’t regret it for a moment” she smiles. Following this she looked into funding opportunities that provide flexible sustained support and was encouraged to apply.

Today, she is back at the forefront of her field: studying the cyanobacteria whose photosynthesis provided the quantities of oxygen fundamental in the development of complex life:

“My research on the evolution of cyanobacteria has shown that photosynthesis first evolved in freshwater environments around 2.7 billion years ago. Cyanobacteria colonised marine environments independently at different times in Earth’s history. As they did so they had a profound impact on the Earth’s global nutrient cycles such as nitrogen, carbon and oxygen. My research looks at whether such evolutionary innovations played a role in regulating the global environment and past climatic events.

The methodologies I use involve the analyses of large-scale multi-gene phylogenies that complement paleo-climate research. I believe that a better representation of biological systems in climate change modelling will significantly improve our predictions of climate change.”

“The Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship brings with it high expectations, and of course I want to fulfil them. But if I didn’t love challenges, I probably wouldn’t have got the Fellowship in the first place.”

Dr Sanchez Baracaldo credits her Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship with providing the flexible working patterns that helped to support her at a critical point in her career. You can read more about Dr Sanchez Baracaldo's research and career on her webpage.