FACULTY IN FOCUS
“Though Peixoto comes from a background of plant science, her love for the sea, diving, and the ocean drove her to find a career related to her main passion: marine science."
Coral reefs have long been an important part of Professor Raquel Peixoto’s life. So when she received the opportunity to live and work by the Red Sea at KAUST, she did not hesitate to accept.
Born and raised in Brazil, Peixoto earned her bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1998. She then pursued her master’s degree in Biotechnology in 2001 and her PhD in Microbiology in 2005 from the same university. She is now an Associate Professor of Marine Science in the Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division and a member of the Red Sea Research Center.
Peixoto joined KAUST in 2020 with her husband, who is also a faculty member at KAUST, and their three children. Tempted by another offer to stay and work in the United States, her visit and interview to KAUST in 2019 changed her mind. To her, having the Red Sea in her backyard was an opportunity too good to pass up, especially as this meant she could translate her research from the lab to the real world almost immediately at her doorstep.
Being so close to the coral reefs has certainly given Peixoto easy access to research samples. But it is as much this as the hugely diverse group of researchers, Principle Investigators (PIs), and engineers working at the Red Sea Research Center – not to mention the center’s advanced infrastructure – that has made her tenure at KAUST so rewarding for Peixoto.
Peixoto finds the university unique in that it “creates a world of possibilities” where researchers can focus on developing strong ideas and the experiments to support them. “I don't think researchers take the job path that they do to become famous; we do it because we love our work,” she explains. What’s more, because students have full scholarships, she has their full attention. They can focus on their studies and research instead of worrying about paying rent and fulfilling other financial obligations. This, she says, is a privilege all scientists seek.
Despite being at KAUST for only a short period of time, Peixoto has managed to do quite a bit. For instance, after assiduously searching underwater for three months, she discovered the perfect place to build the first probiotic coral “village.” “We now have a permanent underwater laboratory located 35 minutes by boat from KAUST where experts and PIs can develop and carry out their research,” she explains. Isolated, protected, and shallow (only nine meters deep), this “magical place,” as she describes it, has all the traits she and her team are looking for. The university celebrated her team’s achievement with an underwater ribbon cutting ceremony.
Though Peixoto comes from a background of plant science, her love for the sea, diving, and the ocean drove her to find a career related to her main passion: marine science. She took her plant research knowledge and turned it into a body of work that seeks to protect the ecosystem. Noticing that the mechanisms and the interactions between microbes and their hosts, either plant or marine organisms, are similar, she has been able to make the transition from land to marine ecosystems, continuing her work on beneficial microbes.
Many see Peixoto as a bit of a workaholic, since relaxing and having fun to her is being close to the sea exploring coral reefs and diving. And yet she also immensely enjoys the cultural and desert trips that KAUST arranges for the staff and their families. These outings have given her the chance to discover Saudi Arabia in advance of the new wave of tourists expected to enter the Kingdom soon.
Peixoto believes KAUST is an ideal community, as well as a safe and positive environment in which to raise a family. Moreover, people do not have to commute long distances to reach their work or the facilities they want. She also enjoys the similarities between Brazilians and Saudis, as both are very welcoming, stay up late, are familiar with big city traffic, like to socialize, and are family-oriented.
Throughout Peixoto’s career, she has stressed the importance of raising people’s awareness to the fact that coral reefs are part of our planet and that we are all connected to them. If she has one message it would be that damage to these vital coral reefs will harm the ecosystem and, in the long run, us all as well.