The Roots of a Scientist

  • Serial
Photograph of a papercut 3D artwork. The image shows a meandering mottled blue and yellow river with white and gold brush strokes indicating the river’s curvature. Surrounding the different bends of the river are plants and shrubbery of various shades of green with red and yellow paint splatters. There is a brunette girl wearing glasses resting with her head in her hands near the river bank.  Four brown otters are shown resting and playing on a branch outstretched across the river. Three tortoises are piled on top of a floating log, travelling downstream.
My rainforest upbringing. © Cat O'Neil for Wellcome Collection.

In this five-part story discover how Indigenous and scientific knowledge about plants past and present can drive research that improves planetary health in the future. Nataly Allasi Canales guides you through a personal journey beginning in the Peruvian Amazon of her home, where she found her passion for biodiversity and traditional knowledge. Follow her through the case of the fever tree, and other botanicals used by Indigenous peoples for medicinal purposes; botanic gardens, where valuable specimens can be found; and historical genomes as snapshots of evolution and ecology. Finally, Nataly argues that to sustain the public health, biodiversity and food security of the future, we must act soon.

About the contributors

Nataly Allasi Canales


Dr Nataly Allasi Canales is a researcher and environmentalist at heart. Originally from the Peruvian Amazon, her aim is to unravel evolutionary histories of important organisms from her hometown, and by doing so she also aims to empower the local communities with science. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen.

Colour illustration of a person representing Cat O'Neil.

Cat O'Neil


Cat O'Neil is an award winning freelance illustrator, specialising in editorial. She studied at Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 2011, and has lived in Hong Kong, London, Glasgow, Lyon and Edinburgh. Her clients include the New York Times, Washington Post, WIRED, LA Times, Scientific American, the Financial Times, the Guardian/Observer, Libération and more. Her work explores the use of visual metaphors to convey concept and narrative, and combines the use of traditional and digital mediums. Much of her recent work includes the creation of 3D paper sculptures, which are made in her studio in Edinburgh.