Wendy Argueta, achieving goals in science
Meet Wendy Argueta, Chief of the FAFG Forensic Genetics Laboratory, in this special edition of our Staff Spotlight, as the FAFG dedicates this week to women and girls in science.
Hello! My name is Wendy Argueta, everyone knows me as Wendy. One of the things I like the most is dancing. I also really like extreme activities; I love adrenaline.
Hello Wendy. Tell us what is your position at the FAFG and what tasks do you perform?
In the Foundation, I have recently been named the Chief of the Forensic Genetics Laboratory, and previously I worked as a DNA Analyst. Our main objective in the laboratory is to process the samples that relatives donate to us, which we call reference samples, and to process the samples obtained from the recovered bones in order to obtain their genetic profiles and then to run a comparison in search of a possible genetic coincidence.
How did your interest in forensic genetics arise? What has been your journey to date?
Before deciding on my university career, I was reading and seeing how science, in terms of chemical and immunological techniques, was applied to forensic investigations. At that time there was little talk of DNA and the use of molecular techniques in forensics. I was very passionate about all of this. When I found out that there was a Biochemistry and Microbiology degree in Guatemala, and that it facilitated the study of DNA, the first thing I thought was: “I want to study this to apply it to a forensic investigation”, without knowing that 10 years later I would be able to do it.
After graduating, I began to apply what I had learned in the area of health. Later, I learned about the FAFG and that its laboratory was applying molecular techniques to forensics, and at that moment I said that this is where I wanted to be and that is where I have been for the last few years. I am very satisfied with my journey all these years.
Can you share with us any anecdote or memorable experience in the time you have been working at the FAFG?
Laboratory work is quite technical, objective, monotonous, scientific, and that is the way it should be. But getting out of this space and seeing how your work impacts the lives of others is what has left the biggest impression on me. I remember in a forum with relatives, there was a mother whose son is Disappeared spoke. She said that, generally, when a woman loses her husband, she is considered a ‘widow’, when a son or daughter loses their parents, they are considered ‘orphans.’ But what title do you receive when you lose a child? There is no way to name it. That impacted me alot, because it means that in the end the work we do can become a response for all the people who have that emptiness in their lives.
Laboratory work is quite technical, objective, monotonous, scientific, and that is the way it should be. But getting out of this space and seeing how your work impacts the lives of others is what has left the biggest impression on me.
What is your vision for the FAFG? What impact do you want to see?
In the laboratory, we have always strived to be up-to-date with technology. From testing new extraction methods that have allowed us to recover more information from skeletal samples, incorporating kits that now have more markers that allow us to extract more genetic information from the samples, and recently integrating new sequencing technology that also impacts forensic genetics in general. I have seen the evolution as well as the openness and adaptability of all to be able to move towards the future.
Regarding the FAFG, I admire how it has always sought to adapt to new needs. We have a technical process that has been changing, where more departments or disciplines have been incorporated into the entire system in order to achieve identifications. Also, due to our experience, we have contributed to other institutions and countries. I think that in the future the FAFG is going down that path of generating and sharing these same skills in other places, so they can resolve their cases as we do here.
How has your experience been with the FAFG working outside of Guatemala?
It is something constant to see that perhaps the forms and scenarios are not identical, but the end the result is the same: there are people who are Disappeared, there are relatives who are looking for their Disappeared, and that for the institutions that are involved to resolve this problem there are answers that we can provide..
In Mexico, at the Regional Center for Human Identification in Coahuila, my contribution and participation has been more technical, strengthening the team, helping to establish the functioning of the team in the staff training processes, and validating the protocols to be used in the laboratory in the future. I have also participated in workshops with family members in Colombia, where we explain how science contributes to the search, localization, and analysis of the samples that they provide and those that are recovered.
What lessons have you learned during the pandemic?
The main lesson for me, both professionally and personally, is the importance of being adaptable, for success and knowing that adaptation is different for each person.
What is your message for all the girls who want to dedicate themselves to science?
If there is something that we are passionate about, we must follow it. We are going to encounter obstacles, but if we have a clear goal we can reach it and give more.If we have already reached the goal, we have to set ourselves the next one and work towards it. As well, we have to fight and support other women so that the path laid and they can achieve their objective.
To finish, what are three words that you relate to the FAFG?
Reparation, dignity, and truth.