Dr. Rosa Vásquez Espinoza, Peruvian chemical biologist and National Geographic Explorer, integrates her Andean-Amazonian heritage and learnings in traditional medicine from her grandmother into her work. As founder of Amazon Research Internacional, Rosa unites science and advocacy, collaborating with indigenous communities to illuminate and protect Amazonian ecosystems. Her ground-breaking work includes becoming the first microbial explorer of the Amazonian Boiling River, and leading the first chemical characterization of Amazonian stingless bees and medicinal honey in Peru. Rosa has co-created the Interconnected Ecosystem-Based Learning program engaging hundreds of students with nature and sustainability. Rosa’s unique approach to blending indigenous knowledge with modern science has garnered her accolades, including the American Chemical Society CAS Leadership Award, and features in NPR, NatGeo Magazine, Forbes, ABC Studios and more.
Raised in Lima, the Andes, and the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, I grew up at the intersection of nature and culture. Inspired by my grandmother, an Andean traditional healer, I became the first scientist in my family, earning degrees in Biology and Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from the University of Michigan.
For over a decade, I have established myself as an expert in natural products science, gaining recognition for my contributions. My research primarily focuses on exploring the untapped biodiversity of the Amazon, discovering new forms of life crucial for our planet’s protection and regeneration. These explorations are not just scientific pursuits but also a means to preserve essential cultural knowledge in partnership with local communities. My efforts have led to my appointment as the International Ambassador of the Ashaninka, one of the most prominent Amazonian indigenous cultures.
“I believe that our planet’s future depends on this synergistic relationship, where both science and traditional wisdom are harmoniously blended and advanced.“
As the first microbial explorer of the Peruvian Boiling River, I discovered new bacterial species, unveiling their potential in medicinal applications and bioremediation. My team and I have been pioneers in analyzing the chemistry of Amazonian stingless bee honey in Peru, a project that led to the legal recognition and protection of stingless bees at a national level. This achievement is currently being expanded by integrating indigenous leaders as co-authors in scientific research, a first in Peru.
My work transcends scientific discovery. It’s about building bridges between modern science and biocultural heritage, elevating indigenous knowledge and leadership to safeguard our rainforests, oceans, and lands. I believe that our planet’s future depends on this synergistic relationship, where both science and traditional wisdom are harmoniously blended and advanced.
Through my endeavours, I hope to inspire a new generation of explorers who appreciate and uphold this interconnection, ensuring that the wonders of our world continue to thrive and be explored by future generations.