#SoCaltech: Elsy Buitrago-Delgado


“Growing up in Colombia, I was fascinated by the diversity of nature. Early in my career I chose to become a botanist, and I studied orchid evolution. I found it fascinating that there were patterns in the anatomy and architecture of orchid flower—but I wanted to go deeper into understanding how living beings develop and how evolutionary patterns that are shared between different lineages arose. When I came to the U.S. for my PhD, I decided to become a developmental biologist and investigate the developmental origin of such patterns. 

Now, in my postdoc, I study early mammalian embryogenesis. During this early time period, a single cell divides to form the whole embryo. After a few days of development, the cells of the embryo are making their very first cell fate decision about what to become. To study how those decisions are made, we use SeqFISH, a technique that allows us to label individual RNA molecules and measure their abundance and spatial distribution. We can measure thousands of different mRNA molecule species within intact samples, which will give us clues to understand how the abundance and distribution of such molecules enable cells to make decisions about their fates at such crucial stages of development.

My Hanna Gray Fellowship will support me throughout my postdoctoral research and into my career as an independent researcher at an academic institution. As a Latin American woman in science, it has been my dream to become a professor and to inspire a new generation of scientists in the U.S. and Latin America. This fellowship is making that possible.”

Elsy Buitrago-Delgado is a postdoctoral scholar studying early mammalian development in the lab of Long Cai. She was recently named one of 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Hanna Gray Fellows. The fellowships are awarded annually to exceptional early career scientists to support diversity in biomedical research.

#SoCaltech is an occasional series celebrating the diverse individuals who give Caltech its spirit of excellence, ambition, and ingenuity. Know someone we should profile? Send nominations to magazine@caltech.edu.