Growing up in Hermosillo, Mexico, Adriana L. Romero-Olivares spent many weekends among the stately saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. Her father, drawing on his knowledge of local plants and animals, taught her the basics of biology, a path she followed after a high school teacher suggested she study science. Toward the end of her undergraduate career at the Autonomous University of Baja California, she says, she fell in love with molecular biology. “I had no idea what this invisible world looked like, but once I did, it blew my mind.”
Romero-Olivares stayed at the University of Baja for her master’s degree, using genetic tools to characterize assemblages of fungi across the Baja Peninsula’s many microclimates. Her unpublished results confirmed that fungi display the same biogeographical tendencies as plants and animals—namely, organisms evolve to thrive in their environments. Fungal communities from similar ecosystems were more alike, regardless of the geographical distance that separated them.