Francisco Bolívar Zapata: Biography And Contributions To Science

Francisco Bolívar Zapata (1948) is a biochemist, researcher, academic and university professor of Mexican origin. He is recognized for his research and technological development work in the area of ​​molecular biology and biotechnology, being a pioneer at an international level.

He has 240 publications cited and has written and edited various popular and opinion books. It is estimated that he has given more than 150 educational and dissemination seminars and conferences, as well as more than 200 contributions at conferences and workshops. In addition, he has directed more than 65 theses, most of them postgraduate.

Dr. Francisco Bolìvar Zapata. Source: Aocadiz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

He has received several distinctions and more than 10 awards such as the Manuel Noriega Award in Science and Technology (1988), the National University Award (1990), the Prince of Asturias Award in Scientific and Technical Research (1991) or the National Award for Sciences and Arts. (1992), among others.

Article index

  • one


    • 1.1

      Government activities

  • two

    Contributions to science

  • 3

    Awards and other distinctions

  • 4



On March 7, 1948, in Mexico City, Francisco Gonzalo Bolívar Zapata was born. During his school years he showed great interest in chemistry and biology. These first years of elementary school were developed at the Richards México School and, in high school, at the Academia Hispano-Mexicana.

After graduating in 1966 as a Bachelor of Science, he entered the Faculty of Chemistry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in 1971, as well as a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate from the same institution in 1973 and 1975, respectively.

From 1975 to 1977 he traveled to the United States to carry out his postdoctoral studies in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the School of Medicine, at the University of California, San Francisco. By then, he became known in the field of global biotechnology thanks to his work on in vitro recombination of DNA and molecular cloning techniques.

In 1980 he was awarded for the first time with the National Chemistry Prize, which was awarded by the Federal Government.

In 1982 he founded the UNAM’s Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Research Center, which later became the Institute of Biotechnology. He directed this instance until 1997.

For the next three years, he was in charge of Scientific Research at UNAM, from the role of coordinator. In parallel, from 1998 to 2000, he was President of the Mexican Academy of Sciences.

Since its creation in 2000 until today, he is Coordinator of the Biotechnology Committee of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. Throughout his career as a researcher, Bolívar Zapata has been a member of various expert committees of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Government activities

Bolívar Zapata has been a member since 2007 of the Governing Board of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT). He has made multiple interventions in defense and promotion of science, biotechnology and the public university, in front of the Congress of the Union and before the Presidency of the Republic.

In mid-2012, he was appointed Coordinator of the Science, Technology and Innovation branch of the Transition Team of the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Almost a year later, in April 2013 until his resignation in September 2015, Bolívar served as Coordinator of Science, Technology and Innovation of the Office of the Presidency of the Republic. For this position he was also appointed by the first Mexican president.

Contributions to science

Bolìvar receiving the Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research (1991). Source:
His main scientific contributions include the isolation, characterization and manipulation of genes in microorganisms, in the field of molecular biology and biotechnology.

In 1977, he was part of a group of researchers in San Francisco who succeeded in producing a series of transgenic proteins identical to human ones in bacteria. Specifically, they used the bacterium  Escherichia coli  to produce for the first time, with recombinant DNA techniques, the human hormones somatostatin and insulin.

From there, he continued his work on the design and optimization of microorganisms that produce metabolites and proteins, both for social and commercial use. In fact, he participated in the creation and organization of the first Genetic Engineering company, known as Genentech , and of which he is currently a consultant.

His return to Mexico made it possible for the first genes in Mexico to be isolated and characterized in his laboratory. In addition, thanks to their team, they were also pioneers in Latin America when synthesizing genes that encoded the protein chains of human insulin.

Thanks to his experience and his research, the production of the first hormone in Mexico was also achieved, using genetic engineering techniques and the continuation of a pilot plan.

The Mexican scientist has also collaborated in the isolation and characterization of genes that code for enzymes of industrial interest, as well as peptides of toxins from poisonous animals.

Awards and other distinctions

– National Prize of Pharmaceutical Sciences “Dr. Leopoldo Río de la Loza ”(1979), awarded by the Mexican Pharmaceutical Association.

– National Prize for Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences (1981).

– Research in Natural Sciences (1982), award granted by the AMC.

– Manuel Noriega in Science and Technology (1988), award granted by the OAS.

– National University Award in the area of ​​Natural Sciences (1990).

– Prince of Asturias in Scientific and Technical Research (1991), awarded by the Prince of Asturias Foundation in Spain.

– National Prize of Sciences and Arts (1992), offered by the Government of the Republic.

– Honorary Academician of the National Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Mexico DF (1994).

– Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Liège, Belgium (1994).

– TWAS Award in the area of ​​Biology (1997), awarded by the Third World Academy of Sciences in Italy.

– Luis Elizondo Award in Science and Technology (1998).

– International Scientist of the Year (2001), awarded by the International Biographical Center of Cambridge, England.

– Doctorate Honoris Causa (2008) from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM).

– Assignment of the name Francisco Gonzalo Bolívar Zapata to the Auditorium of the Institute of Biotechnology (2012).

– Emeritus Researcher (2012) of the National System of Researchers – Conacyt.

– Doctorate Honoris Causa (2016) from the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos (UAEM).


  1. Uribe, MO (2015, November). Dr. Francisco Gonzalo Bolivar Zapata. Recovered
  2. Conacyt (sf) Biographical Data of Dr. Francisco Bolívar Zapata. Recovered from
  3. The National School (sf) Francisco Bolívar Zapata. Recovered from
  4. IAP. (sf). Francisco Gonzalo Bolivar-Zapata. Recovered
  5. Possani, L. (2016, November 9). Contributions of Dr Bolívar Zapata. Recovered from
  6. Prince of Asturias Foundation (sf) Francisco Bolívar Zapata – Laureates – Princess of Asturias Awards. Recovered from

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