Mexico’s new science minister is a plant biologist who opposes transgenic crops

Source: Science Magazine

MEXICO CITY—In early June, evolutionary developmental biologist Elena Álvarez-Buylla received an out-of-the-blue phone call from the campaign of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, then the front-runner in Mexico's presidential election, with a question. If López Obrador won, would she consider becoming the next director of the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt), the country's science ministry and primary granting agency? "My first reaction was to say, ‘I can't,’" recalls Álvarez-Buylla, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) here. "I have a great passion for scientific research," and she couldn't imagine leaving the laboratory.

But after thinking it over for a few hours, her passion for public service took over. "I started to have a feeling that I couldn't say no," says Álvarez-Buylla, who founded and leads Mexico's Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UCCS). "It doesn't matter how big the personal sacrifice is. … This is a unique and historic moment" for Mexico.

López Obrador, a progressive populist, won the presidency in a landslide and will be sworn in on 1 December; Álvarez-Buylla is now preparing to leave the lab bench and assume her new role. She will be the president's primary science adviser and determine priorities for Conacyt's approximately $1.5 billion budget, which funds grants to scientists working in the public and private sectors and supports tens of thousands of Mexican students at home and abroad.