MEXICO CITY—For Andrés Moreno-Estrada, the news was welcome but the timing, terrible. Moreno-Estrada, who hunts for genetic variations linked to disease, recently learned that he had won a 13-million-peso grant from Mexico and the United Kingdom to sequence DNA from blood samples in a public health biobank. But 13 million pesos isn’t what it was before Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency. When the population geneticist at the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO) in Irapuato, Mexico, submitted his proposal in November 2015, the exchange rate was 16 pesos to the dollar, and his grant would have been worth $812,500. Now, the rate is 21 pesos to the dollar. “There’s no way I can do what I committed to,” he says, unless he raises more money.
The fall of the peso, provoked in part by Trump’s insistence on building a border wall and making Mexico pay for it, is one contributor to the waves of angst sweeping through the Mexican science community. “Every time Trump tweets something about Mexico, the peso takes a hit,” says Daniela Robles-Espinoza, a cancer geneticist who is outfitting a new lab at the International Laboratory for Human Genome Research in Juriquilla, Mexico. As the dollar value of grants shrinks, so does buying power: Mexican scientists purchase most of the research materials and equipment they use from the United States. The peso depreciation also strains Mexican scientists hoping to travel to international conferences or publish in journals that require publication fees.
Trump’s harsh stance toward Mexico has made scientists here nervous about the fate of U.S. funding for cross-border collaborations. “The worry is that [Trump] will limit, or perhaps end, some of the academic exchange we have,” either through new regulations or by cutting off money for collaborations, says Jaime Urrutia-Fucugauchi, a geophysicist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) here and president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. The U.S. National Science Foundation currently supports about 200 projects with Mexican collaborators. Mexico’s National Council for Science Technology (Conacyt) said in a statement that “it is an opportune moment” to expand collaborations with other countries including the European Union and China.