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Young Women in Science Part 1

Young scientists, CG Schultz and Jessica Mathews, two of the top winners at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair talk about their work and interview ASU ecologist Kiona Ogle. Pauline Davies hosts the show as Dr. Biology is exploring the Panama rainforest to bring back fun and exciting stories.

The event was sponsored by the Central Arizona Chapter of the Association for Women in Science.

Content Info | Transcript

MP3 download | 6MB

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Topic Time
Intro 00:00
CG Schultz introduces her project. 00:29
Jessica Mathews introduces her project. 00:50
Introduce guest scientist Kiona Ogle. 02:11
How would you describe yourself as a ecologist? 02:29
What is an ecologist? 02:56
How does climate change affect plants and animals? 03:13
Do you know what species are going to go extent? 04:05
How can you preserve species that might go extinct? 04:38
Would you feel bad about changing the DNA of a species? 05:17
Why did you decide to study plants instead of animals? 05:49
Is the desert a good place to do your work? 06:21
Have you always been interested in being an ecologist? 06:55
What would you like to be Jessica? 07:34
Do you have any idea of what kind of mathematician you would like to be? 08:28
Interesting calculus problem dealing with time of death based on body temperature. 08:45
What do you think about the golf courses? 09:16
What would you like to be when you grow up? [CG] 08:01
Sign off 14:15

Transcript - (PDF)

Pauline Davies:  This is "Ask a Biologist," a program about the living world, and I'm Pauline Davies sitting in for Dr. Biology, who's out of the country exploring some fascinating new projects that he'll talk about on a later show. But today, we're celebrating youngsters who've been given awards by the Association of Women in Science, and it's wonderful to have two of these young people here in the Grassroots Studio with me. Tell me your names.

CG Shultz:  I'm CG Shultz and I'm 11, and my project was proving Pick's Theorem using lattice line polygons. I like doing math because it's one of my favorite subjects in school, and I like doing mental math, as well, so I thought that would be a good project for me.

Pauline:  Great. And we've got Jessica.

Jessica Mathews:  Yes. I'm Jessica Mathews. I am 12 years old. I go to Paragon Science Academy, and my project was on magnets and whether or not temperature, like hot and cold, affects the magnetic force field of the magnet. I took paper clips, small, I believe they were steel, and I laid them out on a flat surface. I took the magnets and I put them in different temperatures and different climates, such as a refrigerator at, say, 32 degrees, and I made sure I checked the temperature. I grazed over the paper clips that were on the flat surface, and I put them in a bowl so I could count them, and I put the magnet back in the refrigerator. I counted them and I recorded it. I did that 10 times for different climates.

I have come to the conclusion that yes, temperature does affect the magnetic field. Colder temperatures bring on more paper clips because...You know how when you have a solid, liquid, and gas, how the particles create a solid because they are compacted together because it's colder? Well, it brings more paper clips because it's colder, and so they come together more so they can create their own heat, and it gets more paper clips.

Pauline:  Well done! Well, I hope you're going to enjoy your day here at ASU. I think it's going to be really exciting. Also with us is someone the students have been very excited to meet, Dr. Kiona Ogle, a professor and researcher here in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. Welcome, Kiona.

Kiona:  It's good to be here.

Pauline:  Girls, have you got any questions for Kiona?

CG:  How would you describe yourself as an eco‑ologist?

Kiona:  An ecologist?

CG:  Yes.

Kiona:  I consider myself a mathematical ecologist at this plant and ecosystem ecology, and desert ecosystems. A lot of stuff I do combines ecology with mathematics. I actually started out your age or younger, very interested in math, and then I developed that it into interest in biology as a way to apply my math skills.

Pauline:  I want to know, what is an ecologist?

Kiona:  The ecologist studies how organisms, plants and animals, me in particular, plants, interact with their environment, how the environment affects them in terms of their physiology, their growth, their population dynamics.

Pauline:  Jessica?

Jessica:  Yes. With climate does that affect certain plants and animals?

Kiona:  Well, I know a lot more about plants. In the scientific literature regarding animals, there's predictions that certain species may go extinct because of changes in their environment. Like, elevated temperature might affect some species more than others. There's a same idea with plants, too, that it might affect some species more than others, so that it's not very clear how to predict what will happen, in particular. But the idea is that we might see shifts in what we call "species community composition." So some species do a lot better under elevated carbon dioxide, increased temperature, changes in rainfall, and other species may be out‑competed. They don't do as well, and they could potentially go extinct.

But exactly what will happen? We're still not sure. It's unpredictable.

CG:  When you're saying some species are going to go extinct, do you know exactly what species?

Kiona:  No. I can't name particular species, but the idea is that species that are more sensitive to environmental conditions...If you increase the temperature by five or 10 degrees, some species may be harmed more than others because they can't tolerate extreme temperatures. Here in the desert, if it increases by five more degrees then we have summers at 120 degrees. You might see temperature‑sensitive species that might go extinct.

Jessica:  How can you preserve those certain species?

Kiona:  That's a good question. You have to change the environment or you change the DNA, potentially, of the species, such that you might find certain genotypes that do better under different conditions, where other genotypes have the certain combination of DNA might be more susceptible. Within the species, different individuals might be less susceptible to climate change than others, and so you could target those that are hardier as ones that could potentially be conserved, that keep the population viable.

Pauline:  Would you feel bad about changing the DNA of the species?

Kiona:  Maybe I didn't use the correct words. You could change the genetic composition, not by going in there and actually using molecular ways to change it, but the population could shift towards individuals that already are in the population but that do well, so that certain genotypes might do well. You may not actually change the DNA itself.

Pauline:  It would just be natural selection?

Kiona:  Yeah, helped by man. Helped by us.

CG:  Why did you choose to study plant instead of animals?

Kiona:  I find animals very interesting too, but they're very difficult to study, for one thing, because they move around, and you have to have special permits often to study animals. But I also am just fascinated by plants. Especially desert plants. They're very pretty and they...if we didn't have plants, none of us would be alive, because they produce the oxygen that we breathe. And they're very easy to study. Beause they're there, they don't move, you can make all sorts of measurements on them. You can manipulate them very easily.

Pauline:  Do you think the desert is a good place to do what you're doing?

Kiona:  I personally do. I love the desert. [laughter] Other people might find other ecosystems more interesting, but I am particularly interested in how changes in rainfall might affect desert plants and ecosystems. And we're seeing changes in rainfall patterns due to Climate Change. And deserts are very extreme environments in terms of temperature and water availability. So they are a good place to study some of the effects of these extreme climate changes that you might see.

Jessica:  OK. So you're saying you're interested in certain ecosystems such as the desert and plants. Well, have you always been interested? Like when you were a child, did you know you were going to be an ecologist?

Kiona:  No. I thought I might be either a graphic artist, or a math teacher. But I grew up in a very rural area on a farm. So I was always outside, interacting with plants and the environment. And I developed an interest more probably about it in high school. And then in college, I really decided to become an ecologist after about two years in college. It was more a gradual. I realized, "I really like this, so I might as well study it."

Jessica:  That's good.

Pauline:  What would you like to be, Jessica?

Jessica:  I don't know. I'm kind of still deciding, because certain people know what they want to be. But others don't. They take a long time to decide. So I don't know.

Kiona:  What are your favorite subjects?

Jessica:  All of them. I like school a lot, so I'm very interested in math and science, and technology and engineering. I could be an engineer, or I could be a singer or an artist, or anything really.

Pauline:  How about you, C.G.?

C.G.: I would like to become a math professor when I grow up, because I've always really had an interest in math. By the time I'm in eighth grade, I'll have all my high school math done. So I just thought it would be really fun to become a math professor, and teach kids about math and different [laughter] things. So...

Pauline:  That's a great ambition. Do you have any idea what sort of mathematician you would like to be? Would you like to study problems in the real world, or would you like to do math for its own sake?

C.G.: Study math in the real world, I guess. Because it sounds [laughter] really fun to do that.

Kiona:  I remember when I was in high school and I took a calculus class. Have you had calculus yet? C.G.: No.

Kiona:  OK. But we had a problem in there that was using calculus methods to figure out when somebody died, based upon the change in their temperature. I thought that was a very interesting problem when I was in high school, and I realized that there's many applications of math to biological problems. You know, real world applications that made it kind of exciting.

C.G.: That sounds really cool what you did in high school.

Kiona:  Yeah. C.G.: I want to do that now. [laughter]

Pauline:  You'll get there soon enough.

C.G.: [laughter] OK.

Pauline:  Well I can't let you go without asking fact, I'll ask you all. What do you think about the golf courses all around the Phoenix area? They take up a lot of water, don't they?

Kiona:  They probably do, but they are also using reclaimed water. So I'm torn about them. I don't think they belong in a desert, but then they're using water we don't use elsewhere, really. I don't know.

Pauline:  Right. What about you girls?

Jessica:  Well, personally, I don't like golfing. It's not one of my favorite hobbies. But I think that it does use a lot of water that, yes, we may not use the water, but it could also be used in different areas. So they're good and bad. They have different sides.

Pauline:  And C.G.?

C.G.: I like golf, but I don't do it as often as I used to. I also agree with Jessica, because they could be used for good things, but they're also could be used for bad things as well, so...

Kiona:  Though I read a study recently that I use for my Ecology class that looked at bird diversity in different urban habitats. And golf courses were one of the urban habitats that supported the highest bird diversity. So that's a potentially good component of it, even though I'm not advocating lots of golf courses everywhere.

Pauline:  So as an ecologist, you've got mixed views?

Kiona:  Yes. I'm more on the side that I wish that there were fewer. But I think we have a lot here in the Valley.

Jessica:  Yeah, we do. [music]

Pauline:  Well, that's been fantastic, girls. Thank you very, very much.

Jessica:  Thank you.

C.G.: Thank you.

Kiona:  Thank you. [music]

You've been listening to Ask a Biologist and with me have been school girls C.G. Schultz and Jessica Matthews, winners of awards given by the Association of Women in Science. Together we've been talking to environmentalist and ecologist, Dr. Kiona Ogle. The Ask a Biology Podcast is produced on the campus of Arizona State University and is recorded in the Grassroots Studio which is housed in the school of Life Sciences, a division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And remember, even though our program is not broadcast live, you can still send us your questions about biology using our companion website. The address is,, or you can just Google the words, "Ask a Biologist." I'm Pauline Davies.

Transcription by CastingWords

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Young Women in Science Part 1

Audio editor: Pauline Davies

Young Women in Science Part 2

Young scientists, Farah Eltohamy, Amanda Benedetto and Sarah Sakha, three of the top winners at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair talk about their work and interview ASU biologist Susan Holechek. Pauline Davies hosts the show as Dr. Biology is exploring the Panama rainforest to bring back fun and exciting stories.

The event was sponsored by the Central Arizona Chapter of the Association for Women in Science.

Content Info | Transcript

MP3 download | 8MB

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Topic Time
Intro 00:00
Farah Eltohamy introduces her project. 00:34
Amanda Benedetto introduces her project. 00:53
Sarah Sakha introduces her project. 01:42
Is cinnamon a spice that could be good for food storage? 02:21
Introduce guest scientist Susan Holechek. 02:44
Susan what do you think of the girls projects? 03:08
How did you come up with your projects? 03:38
What's the difference between Dengue Fever and Hemorrhagic Fever? 05:38
What happens when you get Hemorrhagic Fever? 06:28
Are there scientist in Peru who were working on Dengue Fever who inspired you to become a scientist? 07:05
Are you working on a future vaccine for Dengue Fever? 08:20
How do you blend molecular biology and advanced mathematics in your research? 08:52
What's the best thing about your work? 10:38
Do you have any hobbies that lead you to a career in science? [link with art] 11:18
If you weren't a scientist, what you you be? [Susan Holcheck] 12:15
Sara, what would you like to be? [Sara, Amanda] 12:45
Sign off 14:15

Transcript - (PDF)

Pauline Davies:  This is "Ask a Biologist," a program about the living world, and I'm Pauline Davies standing in for Dr. Biology, who is trekking around the rainforests of Panama recording the sounds of animals to bring to you in a future program. Today, though, we're honoring young people who've been given awards by the Association of Women in Science, and I'm delighted to have with me three of those young people. Tell me about yourselves. Farah?

Farah Eltohamy:  I'm 12 years old, and I go to BASIS Chandler. The project I did, which I won the award for, was using nitrifying bacteria to clear out ammonia and nitrate from lake water to help the fish.

Pauline:  Wow, Farah, and what's your second name, just so that everyone knows who you are.

Farah:  Farah Eltohamy.

Pauline:  OK, and Amanda?

Amanda Benedetto:  Hi, I'm Amanda Benedetto, and I'm 11 years old. My project was "Can Roaches Learn?" I ran roaches in a maze that I constructed myself. It looks almost like a pitchfork. It's a Y with another endpoint in the middle. I wanted to see if they learned, because I put food in one of the endpoints and I ran them through. Learning would be if they went in faster each time and found the food. But some roaches also went to different endpoints without the food. They called that their favorite spot, and went there faster and faster.

Pauline:  That sounds absolutely fascinating and a lot of fun. Did you enjoy doing that project?

Amanda:  Yes, I did. I like bugs a lot.

Pauline:  Well, let's see what Sarah has to say.

Sarah Sakha:  I am a sophomore, 16 years old, at Xavier College Prep. I did my experiments by creating an alternative emergency food product by using lentil rice, what is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, and I tested the anti‑microbial activity of three different spices ‑‑ cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom ‑‑ on the shelf life of the EFP [Emergency Food Products]. I ran it over six weeks, and stored it at room temperature at my own house, and tested.

Pauline:  What did you find? What was the answer?

Sarah:  Cinnamon yielded the greatest anti‑microbial activity, and the EFP, it's still going strong after six weeks. I hope to test it in a food lab one day.

Pauline:  Do you think I should add cinnamon to things that I've got at home if cinnamon is the right sort of flavor?

Sarah:  For palatability, sure, and for shelf life, it depends.

Pauline:  Well, it's a good thing to try, I think, anyhow. Together, we're going to be interviewing one of the most inspiring young researchers in the School of Life Sciences here at Arizona State University. Welcome, Susan Holechek.

Susan Holechek:  Welcome, girls. I am very happy to see some of you again. Welcome back. I just graduated in December with a PhD degree in molecular and cellular biology, so now I move from one biologist’s lab to an immunology lab. I'm very happy to talk about my research with you, so if you have any questions, please come at.

Pauline:  First of all, Susan, what do you think of the girls' projects?

Susan:  They are amazing. I already heard so many things about you. I, unfortunately, didn't have the time to be a judge this year, but I was a judge last year. The projects are just unbelievable. I already know that some people in Biodesign are very interested in your results, so if you're looking for any high school internships, yes, let us know. You girls are welcome. You're already stars.

Farah:  I plan on becoming a biologist, so maybe I could go and do an internship.

Susan:  Perfect.

Pauline:  How did you think of your projects? Was it the school that advised you, your teachers, or did you all come up with them, yourself?

Farah:  Well, I was always inspired by environmental projects, but our school science fair project, they would only give us one week or a couple of days so we could get the idea, so I had to do it really quickly. My mother and I, we found the idea online. Even though it looked really complicated, I thought I would take the chance to do it because I was always interested in environmental projects, as I said before, and I want to make a big change. I decided to choose it.

Pauline:  And Amanda?

Amanda:  I've always liked bugs ever since I was four, and when I was a baby. I've always played with bugs, and when I grow up, I would like to be an entomologist. I've always been inspired by them, so every science fair I've used bugs with my projects. Last year, I used mealworms and beetles, and used their metamorphosis, but this year I used Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Pauline:  Where did you get those?

Amanda:  There was a store in Mesa called the Reptile Center, and I got them there. A buck each.

Pauline:  Right, so your parents don't mind you having these strange bugs at home?

Amanda:  No. My dad actually approves of it, and my mom, she's kind of scared of them but she says it's OK.

Pauline:  Great project. And Sarah?

Sarah:  I was watching a late‑night CNN special on Anderson Cooper about the food famine and droughts in Somalia, and they were showing the EFPs that they used, which is a paste‑like substance that must be very unpalatable.

Pauline:  EFPs, what are they?

Sarah:  Emergency food products that they use in times of low food supply in remote areas. So, I got to thinking. I'm in the accelerated science program in my own school, so I started working on a project.

Pauline:  Cool. Now, have you got some questions for Susan?

Amanda:  Yes.

Pauline:  Go on, Amanda.

Amanda:  What's the difference between the dengue fever and the hemorrhagic fever?

Susan:  Both are diseases, and both of them are transmitted by the same virus, dengue virus. Now, we have four different kinds of dengue. We call it dengue serotypes, dengue‑1, ‑2, ‑3 and ‑4. Dengue fever would be somebody that gets bitten by a mosquito, so it's a mosquito‑transmitted disease. The mosquito bites you, and then you may have a mild fever. What happens is that then, maybe one month later, there's another mosquito that bites you, with another dengue. Let's say, in this case, dengue‑2. Now you have both serotypes in your body, right? They are dengue‑1 and dengue‑2, so the probabilities that you're going to get dengue hemorrhagic fever are higher, especially for children under 15 years old. That's what's the big, big problem.

Pauline:  You're obviously a specialist on dengue fever. What are the consequences of getting hemorrhagic fever?

Susan:  I'm from Peru, and when I was working there in '98 we have the first dengue-hemorrhagic fever dengue outbreak, ever. I was overseeing thousands of people getting the disease. There were a lot of children that get the disease, and there was even a six‑year‑old girl that died with complication. The problem with hemorrhagic fever is when you're so young, you don't have a lot of immune defenses and you can die in four days, so it's a big problem.

Farah:  Were there scientists in Peru that were planning on curing dengue fever, like you did, that inspired you?

Susan:  It was my intention. I did my biologist degree in Peru, and then I was invited to work at NIH at a very young age. When you're at NIH, you have to work with assistance and make an impact in your country. So being in Peru and dengue was a very important disease. Although at the time we didn't have any hemorrhagic fever, it was still very important because we didn't know what kind of dengue it was and we didn't know the genotype, so yes, more going into the genomic sequence of the virus. When the dengue hemorrhagic fever appeared for the first time ever in 2000, I was part of the multidisciplinary group that went. We looked at the people that were in the hospitals. It was just crazy.

Unfortunately, here in the States, we have the mosquito that transmits the virus in more than 28 states, and Mexico has dengue‑1, ‑2, ‑3 and ‑4. So, you girls do the math, we better be aware and have to have a prevention plan in place, because when the disease hits you there is no way back. And there is no vaccine. That's the problem. There is no vaccine for dengue.

Farah:  You're going to work on the vaccine?

Susan:  We're working, right now. I just finished my PhD. There are not a lot of scientists working with dengue in the States, and that's because we don't have the disease. I think there was an outbreak a couple of years ago in Florida with dengue‑1, but there were not many people. In order for us to start really working on the project, we need to get a lot of approval. We need to get the virus. We need to get the animal models or whatever it is that we need. That takes some time, and I just graduated. I'm doing my best.

Sarah:  I've noticed that you're working with both molecular biology and advanced mathematics, and I was just wondering how you can integrate these two in order to predict the outcomes of dengue fever and outbreaks.

Susan:  That's an excellent question, and that's something that I would like to advise to you. Right now, we are in the world of interdisciplinary work, so you girls, if you can team up with somebody that's...If you are interested in ecology, you should team up with somebody in molecular biology. These interdisciplinary roles are very valuable. The way I started working with math, although I'm not a mathematician, was when I met an ex‑collaborator and David Murillo. He already left ASU, but I am still working with the math department here. He had a big interest in dengue. I have a huge interest in dengue. He was doing mathematical models. I used to do molecular biology in Peru. That was what I did for five years there.

We decided, OK, what if we can look into whether the variables ‑‑ what mosquitoes, and is there a different serotype, as I mentioned, 1, 2, 3, and four ‑‑ if there is a predisposition for a specific serotype to be transmitted at a higher rate. That's when mathematics go into place. You should see these complicated models that they created. We're going to publish a paper ‑‑ we are working on it ‑‑ in maybe three months for a conference.

It gives me a different perspective, and I think that was a very valuable trade, because that was what got me my post‑doc right now. Because my advisor, Dr. Blackman, he's very interested also in immunology and the math part. It's because of my background, because I'm not afraid of math, that's how I got the position.

It's very valuable for you girls to try to collaborate with other people in different fields.

Pauline:  What's the best thing about your work? What do you enjoy most?

Susan:  OK, this is great. Every day is different. Every day is a challenge. In science, you have to be ready to fail. That's how you learn is when you experiment, it won't work the first time. It may not work the second, it may not work the...but when it works, you celebrate. Every day is different. It's not sitting down at the desk and doing the same job every day. You're in the lab, then you're on the computer. You're running your samples. You're ordering. You're planning ahead. You're writing a grant or you're writing your paper, your results. It's so exciting. Every day is so different, so I love it about it.

Farah:  Do you find being a scientist is very unique and not boring in the job? Were there any hobbies that motivated you to being a scientist?

Susan:  Well, I was funny because I told my dad I wanted to be a scientist, I think, when I was six years old. He kept buying me these microscopes and science books and stuff, so I didn't have the time to go into music when I was little. I wish, but I love painting, and I think being an artist as a hobby helped me a lot. Because when you're working with tiny things, you have that art in your fingers. You had a nice strife, [?] yes.

Farah:  Yeah. Since art is also my talent, whenever I do science it reminds me of art, since art is unique and it's your way. You can think of any idea you want. You can turn it to reality.

Susan:  Exactly. It's your way of expressing what you want, and you're going to be fine in that art. It's a great hobby to have when you're a scientist.

Pauline:  If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Susan:  Oh, my gosh. When I was little, I was between being an astronaut, was scared that, because I now...and I was very interested in archaeology. The country where I'm from, Peru, is so rich. If you hear about Machu Picchu, those ruins are amazing. I've been there five times. It's so rich. The culture is so rich there that if you are an archaeologist in Peru, that would be great. That was my second choice.

Pauline:  Sarah, what would you like to be?

Sarah:  I do not know. My dad is in internal medicine, but I'm in between integrating social issues and biology. I don't know. I have a few years to decide.

Pauline:  Right. Amanda?

Amanda:  I just want to stick with being an entomologist because I think that bugs are interesting. They can transmit diseases, and sometimes they can cure them if you get the right motivation. Because I heard that there was a certain type of ant, and if they took some of the venom out and injected it into a person that was sick with something. I forget what it was, but it cured them. They used the venom from the ant on one person, and then on the other person, they added a few things to the venom to make it an antidote.

Pauline:  Well, I think that's a fantastic motivation for your career in the future. Don't you agree, Susan?

Susan:  It's perfect, because in dengue, as I mentioned before, it's transmitted by mosquitoes. I've had one year of entomology, also training. I just went to Costa Rica last year. That was very useful because I had to determine is this the right species of mosquito or not, so I had to use my entomology skill. That's amazing. I love it.

Amanda:  Thank you.

Pauline:  Thank you all, Susan and some girls.

Susan:  Thank you so much.

Pauline:  It was great fun talking to you.

Sarah:  Thank you.

Amanda:  Thanks.

Farah:  Thank you.

Pauline:  You have been listening to "Ask a Biologist." In the studio have been award‑winning youngsters Farah Eltohamy, Amanda Benedetto, and Sarah Sakha. We've been chatting with infectious disease biologist Dr. Susan Holechek. The "Ask a Biologist" podcast is produced at the campus of Arizona State University and is recorded in the Grassroots Studio housed in the School of Life Sciences, which is a division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And remember, even though our program is not broadcast live, you can still send us your questions about biology using our companion website. The address is, or you can just Google the words "Ask a Biologist." I'm Pauline Davies.

Transcription by CastingWords

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Young Women in Science Part 2

Audio editor: Pauline Davies

PLOSable Biology All

article image


Scientists are learning new things every day. They are also writing about their discoveries. In most cases they publish in science magazines called journals, like those produced by the Public Library of Science (PLOS). In PLOSable you will find stories that will help you read and explore the articles written by scientists.

Now jump in and start exploring PLOSable - a place where firsthand science is only a mouse click away.

PLOSable Biology (quick list)

PLOSable Biology (quick list)

Scientists are learning new things every day. They are also writing about their discoveries. In most cases they publish in science magazines called journals like the Public Library of Science (PLOS). In PLOSable Biology you will find stories that will help you read and explore the articles written by scientists.

Now jump in and start exploring PLOSable Biology - a place where firsthand science is only a mouse click away.

Ugly Bug Contest 2011

A quiet western town waits for the arrival of the swarm of contestants for the 2011 Ugly Bug Contest.

show/hide credits and transcript


Executive Producer: Jacob Sahertian
Editing, Art Design, and Animation: Erik Holsinger
Sound and Music Design: Erik Holsinger, Jacob Sahertian and Jacob Mayfield
Insect Animation: Vislab interns Luis Chavez and Robert Cohen
Voice Over talent: Travis "Big Bob" McGillicutty the Third
Bug colorization: Debra Page Baluch
Video QC: James Baxter, Jacob Mayfield, Margaret Couloumbe, Charles Kazilek and Debra Page Baluch
Transcript: Marcella Martos and James Baxter


The video opens with white words on a black background. The words read, "For one year they waited in a quiet" and in the first couple of seconds the words "WESTERN TOWN" fade in below them. 'Western town' is in gold text.

Twangy, slow music plays as the words fade in, reminiscent of old western movies.

The scene changes to a train pulling into a small town. The train and buildings are silhouetted against a background of tan mountains and blue sky. We hear the "toot-toot" of the train's horn, and a harmonica starts playing, along with some ticking percussion.

The view pans into the middle of the town and we see three people standing in the middle of a dirt road. First we see them from the back - from left to right they are: a tall man with brown hair and a large hat, wearing a white shirt and blue jeans; a shorter man with white hair and a larger hat, wearing a jean shirt and pants, and a little girl with pink hair, wearing yellow and white dress. Both men have their hands on their hips. The video shows them from the front next, and we see that the shorter man has a large white mustache, and looks older than the other. The little girl is smiling.

The screen fades to black, and the words, "And then THE SWARM came riding in…" appear on the screen. Most of the text is white, but "the swarm" is gold.

The next scene shows a large view of the desert. There are large red rock formations in the foreground, and further back are purple mountains and a train passing by. There is a cloud of dust rising from the desert floor.

The music changes, and now we can hear a sound like the patter of feet, galloping horses, or a stampede.

(Scene shown in aerial view) The next frame is a close-up of the large cloud of dust. We can't see what is in it, but there are flashes of antennae sticking up.

The scene changes and now we can see purple and blue bugs running past, in a desert landscape dotted with saguaro cacti. The bugs are scurrying across the desert leaving a huge trail of dust behind them.

Back in the town, we see the three people standing their ground as a large cloud of dust approaches. The view flashes from the three of them, to the oncoming bugs, and back again. Each time our view returns to the people, the image closes in on the old man, whose eyes are getting wider.

The bugs come to a stop in front of the people just as the music stops. Each person's eyes get round, as though shocked, and we hear a gasp, "Huh!"

The screen splits into three sections. The old man is shown in the center. As a bell starts ringing in the background, two of the bugs appear on either side of him, one green and one red. The bell rings again, and now the younger man is in the center, and two bugs appear on either side of him; one is blue and the other is furry-looking and yellow.

The frame shifts to the little girl, who blinks twice, then smiles and waves.

Closing in on the blue bug. This bug has purple eyes, a black head, and a dark blue body. It has two long grey antennae and as it flicks one of them we hear the sound of a whip cracking.

The images changes to planks of wood, over which the words "In the end there could be only one winner in" moves up the screen as our view pans down. It stops over a more worn-looking section of wood, and we can see part of a wanted poster in the frame. In a flash of glowing red-orange light, the text changes to say, "The good, the bad & the Ugly Bug Contest." These words linger on the screen as the background fades to black.

The text changes to say, "Will it be..." and then we see images of four of the contestants. Each image lists a nick-name, scientific order and factoid about these bugs. Inspirational music swells as each bug is shown.

The first one is "Rosie," Collops vittatus, a red and tan bug with a squat face, who is shown against a blue background. Rosie's factoid is "aphid and white fly killer."

The next bug shown is "Doc," Hymenoptera, a green and brown bug with long curled antennae, whose factoid is "destroyer of any plant pests."

"Big Bob," Algarobius prosopis, is third, and "loves a good mesquite seed." Bob is yellow and red, and his body is textured in a way that looks like fur or hair.

The last bug shown is "Barney," Phyllotreta, whose factoid is "loves mustard and horseradish weeds." Barney is the blue bug with purple eyes that earlier flicked his antenna, and is shown against a red background.

After "Barney" is shown, the music ends with a bell-sound. The bell keeps ringing as text appears on the black screen. The text says "Which one will be the winner?" and then changes to "YOU DECIDE" in large letters.

The next frame shows the same three people. The little girl exclaims "whoa!" in a surprisingly deep voice. Then the older man says, 'Man, them there's some ugly bugs."

The bell stops ringing in the background, and a sound like a whip cracking signals the transition to the final frame. It has a black background and text that reads, "Vote for your favorite Ugly Bug at".

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Biology Business

Have you ever thought of biology as career path to running a multi-million-dollar project? Biologist Bruce Hammock talks about life as a biologist, being a businessman and mountain climbing. Listen in as Dr. Biology learns how  biology, being a businessman and mountain climbing all fit together? 

Content Info | Transcript

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Topic Time
Intro 00:00
Scorpion venom types. Can they set their "phasors" on stun? 01:06
What are you - a biochemist or a biologist? 02:54
Basic research - transition from pest control to pain control. 03:08
Why work on insects? Why not mammals that might help humans? 04:28
It has been a long time since new drugs for blood pressure and pain have been introduced.. 05:36
How does the drug work to control pain and blood pressure - it's all in the fat. 06:21
The winding path of discovery. Pain management. 07:08
Life as a scientist and also a businessman and a creator of a company - Arete. 07:58
The costs to bring a new drug to market. How do find the money to get a drug to market. 09:19
Why all drugs don't make it to market. 10:20
The advantages of the current drug for developing countries. 10:52
Not all research labs or research scientists are the same. What is it like running a large lab? 12:38
Biology and research serious play filled with lots of fun. 14:41
Having published 700 papers - how does the process work in your lab? 15:22
The writing and science process. [telling a story] 16:08
The importance of many different people, interests and expertise. [Images and Illustrations] 17:08
Climbing mountains and white water rafting.. 18:39
Three questions. 19:17
Was their and ah ha moment that got you into science?. 19:30
Bonus question - what is your favorite insect species. [The story of a pet Wheel bug] 20:18
What would you be or do if you were not a scientist? 22:18
What advice do you have for someone wanting to be a biologist? 24:06
What's it been like to be involved with the business side? 24:54
Sign-off 25:54

Transcript - (PDF)

Dr. Biology:  This is Ask a Biologist, a program about the living world and I am Dr. Biology. OK. It's time for true confessions. In the past year, we have been busy working on new features and content for our companion website. This is the one that We've also been visiting a lot of guests on Ask A Biologist program. What we haven't been doing is keeping up with the editing and releasing with the shows. On the coming months, we will be releasing these previously recorded shows along with current programs. Up next is an interview with biologist, businessman and mountain climber Bruce Hammock to show where biology meets business.

It could have been called Business Life or Life in Business. Either way, the story is about biology, basic research and how it can turn into a multimillion‑dollar project that could one day lead to a new drug to treat pain, blood pressure, diabetes as well as heart disease.

Welcome to Ask A Biologist, Professor Hammock.

Bruce Hammock:  Thank you, Dr. Biology.

Dr. Biology:  You probably don't know it but I've talked about you and your research group on this program in an earlier show.

Bruce:  Was it about scorpions?

Dr. Biology:  You've got it. It all had to do with scorpions, which are very common in the dessert here and their very interesting venom. What I described as having a weapon that could be set to stun or another one that could be set to kill. Now, you call them a pre‑toxin venom light and the real toxin that kills. Have you learned anything more about the pre‑toxin and toxin in scorpions?

Bruce:  Well, it's pretty much the same story. We use a very large scorpion, Androctonus, from South Africa as well as the Centruroides that I actually collected pretty close to your university. This large scorpion, Androctonus, is a lot easy to see because it is actually a large animal. It is an attack scorpion. It doesn't hide. It is four inches, five inches, even six inches long. Most scorpions are very secretive like your bark scorpion but this attack scorpion, if it sees a potential predator will attack the predator and actually spray it's pre‑venom into the eyes of the predator.

Dr. Biology:  Ouch! Well, I was also wondering, did they use this in some cases to scare things away? That they are not really trying to kill but say, "Hey, you stay away rather than try to kill them?"

Bruce:  I would expect that... Although, biology doesn't work like this, that the scorpion, "I have this very expensive venom and I have a very cheap venom." I'm willing to use the cheap venom to scare something away. But if I'm really terrified that this bird is going to eat me, I am going to use a real venom and kill it.

Dr. Biology:  OK. Well, I introduced you as a biochemist but you can also be called an entomologist because your work has been with insects. What do you describe yourself as?

Bruce:  Well, it depends. If I'm around a chemist, I'm a biologist. If I'm around a biologist, well, then I'm a chemist. That way I get away with a lot. [laughter]

Dr. Biology:  I like that. I like it. I think I do the same thing. Well, your work, you started out in basic research.

Bruce:  Yes.

Dr. Biology:  Basic research to me is really critical. You don't think about it but it's pretty much the building blocks of what a lot of other research is based on.

Bruce:  Yes.

Dr. Biology:  If we don't have that, we lose a lot of the materials we need to build these drugs or create these drugs or design these drugs, whatever term you want to use or in some cases, pesticides. What I want to know is how did you move from pest control to pain control?

Bruce:  I think it has been really fun although it was hard to see from the beginning. That we were working on a green pesticide many years ago that affects insect development. Actually, the compound is still used. You can buy it at the drug store that we worked on 30‑35 years ago. But the enzymes, some of the enzyme systems, we were looking at the insects that let caterpillars turn into butterflies. We asked do they occur in mice and rats? Surprising the answer was yes.

It also occurs in tomatoes and potatoes. We just began to wonder what they do. We still don't know what they do in plants but in mammals, they control blood pressure, pain, and inflammation.

Dr. Biology:  OK. Now, you brought up a really good point. We are talking about insects which a lot of people say why on earth are you working on insects. Because as a species, humans, we are pretty egocentric. We always want to know how is this going to help me? What is the good part for humans? You are showing right now, you are working with insects and it actually moved right into humans.

Bruce:  Yes. Working with insects was fun just because how caterpillars turn to butterflies is one of the things almost every kid in the world, including me since I have never grown up, is interested in. But insects are also those creatures that eat about 60 percent of the world's food supply. They also transmit malaria, encephalitis and really terrible diseases. So there's a very practical reason to work on insects in addition to learning how caterpillars turn into butterflies. But also, this very basic work then begins to have many practical applications down the line. In this case, the insect work has led directly to drugs that may help reduce pain and inflammation.

Dr. Biology:  That's pretty amazing. You were talking today in your lecture. You mentioned you spent at least 20 years a drug company or at least a research group has done this basic research to bring a new drug for control of this particular areas.

Bruce:  Yes. That's true that we have a lot of drugs that have a new name. But they are slightly different structure. But the new mechanism of action is really attractive because the position then could tailor that drug to an individual person who has a particular ailment. They also could combine this drug with older drugs to reduce blood pressure or reduce inflammation in a more sophisticated way with few side effects.

Dr. Biology:  So from butterflies to blood pressure?

Bruce:  Yes.

Dr. Biology:  OK. Can you explain how this drug works?

Bruce:  We have a group of fats. We don't think of fats like this. We have a group of fats that actually are what we call chemical mediators. They are controlling child birth. These fats are controlling blood pressure. They are controlling pain. They are controlling an awful lot of biology. So the compounds that we have made control the fats that control the biology.

Dr. Biology:  OK. Now, do the fats have a name?

Bruce:  The name is really long. They are derivatives of arachidonic acid and are called eicosanoids. But if you look on the label of the new baby food bottles, eicosanoids are there. They are called arachidonic acids.

Dr. Biology:  OK. You can see it on local store shelves. So biology is right in your local store. All right, you have not only been doing this basic research. You have not only gone from butterflies to blood pressure. You also learned a lot along the way.

Bruce:  It's been really fun because when you find a compound that could be a new drug; you are also finding a probe to ask how does biology work. And so, we have been really interested and very surprised, for instance, to find these compounds dramatically reduce pain. Not only the pain that comes from an inflammation like you cut your finger, but really terrible pain that can come from diabetes or from a burn or bone cancer.

Dr. Biology:  In this process, you’re a scientist. Scientist, we consider ourselves kind of purists a lot of time. It's for the good of science. It's a part of learning. Well, you are mountaineer. Why do you do it? Because it's there. You want to climb that mountain. You actually created a company and it's called Arete, which is A‑R‑E‑T-E which is French?

Bruce:  Yes.

Dr. Biology:  It is a mountaineering term?

Bruce:  It is also is dead fish back bone.

Dr. Biology:  Oh.

Bruce:  But mountaineers noticed the sharp ridges kind of look like the dead fish back bone.

Dr. Biology:  OK.

Bruce:  That is not very aesthetic.

Dr. Biology:  OK. To be clear it is term that says sharp or steep ridge. I was curious. Why did you pick this name for your company?

Bruce:  My kids and I were coming down from the mountain called Bear Creek Spire, which is one of my favorite mountains. We were talking about what would be a good name if I started a company. We looked back at what we climbed which was the northeast around Bear Creek's Spire. We thought Arete. That's a nice name. I think no one used it before.

Dr. Biology:  It wasn't so much as this has been a sharp and steep learning curve or sharp and steep climb in the world of business?

Bruce:  We did that afterwards, of course. You can make all sorts of analogies like that. But no, it actually was just a really good day climbing a really nice mountain.

Dr. Biology:  When doing my research, I was looking at what you estimated it cost to bring a drug to the market which means so the doctor can prescribe, or you can find it at a local drug store. The number was amazing to me because it went from 700 million to 1.2 billion dollars. Even though we talked about billions of dollars in the news these days as if it's commonplace, this is real money. I mean really a lot of money. How do you get that kind money to bring that drug to market?

Bruce:  Got me. [laughter]

Bruce:  We've been able to raise about 50 million dollars to get the drug to what's called phase two chemical trials. But it will have to be a big pharmaceutical company that then takes it from there. It's extraordinarily expensive to move to all of the human safety tests needed to move the drug to market. Most never make it. Most of these materials will in fact fail along the way.

Dr. Biology:  It's not necessarily for the money. It's because they find a side effect or something else.

Bruce:  They find a side effect or the big company decides that the patient population at the end will not be able to pay enough for the drug to be able to pay back the research cost.

Dr. Biology:  Right. If it takes 1.2 billion to bring it to market, probably other costs in there. You’ve got to make that much money back or it's not worth doing which is bringing me to another important part. In reading about this drug, the type that you are working on. The manufacturing of it seems to be much more compatible with lower cost. In other words it doesn't cost much to make it. In particular, I was interested because I think it was mentioned that developing countries could probably produce this drug as well. Which is a real issue. It is decline for rich countries like United States or Canada or England, and say, to be able to do this. But what happens when you want to get this drug to a developing country. How does that work? Why is it so much better, or have the potential to be so much better?

Bruce:  The chemistry? Although, I like to think that my work is very sophisticated and I have the most wonderful students in post doc. This is very simple chemistry. The compounds that are being developed in the US are quite good compounds. The cost of the drug will of course, incorporate the development cost. But the actual cost of the drug itself is dirt cheap. There are analogs of this that are basically free to make. They can be made in the country with very, very low technology. They are also very potent in the tiny amounts of the compound will be biologically effective. I am very optimistic that it will only be sociological barriers we have to face in moving these compounds into developing countries.

If we looked a lot of Africa for example, once you get past HIV or AIDS and infant diarrhea, the new problems in many of these countries are the problems of social transition which means obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure. I think we can really help there.

Dr. Biology:  When I looked at your list of publications. You have over 700 publications. This is phenomenal. But I also want to mention that you have at least 30 people in your laboratory. This isn't a small...

Bruce:  It's not a small operation.

Dr. Biology:  No. This is a big lab. What's it like running a big lab? Because if you went to a usual person in the street and said, "Describe a scientist." First of all, they put on some white lab coats and they have us behind a bench and probably not mountaineering. But the other thing they do is they usually think that you are sitting down there doing the experiments day in and day out. You are the only one doing them or maybe have a helper or two. In your lab, there must be a lot of experiments going on.

Bruce:  Yeah. There are lots of different ways of doing science. Luckily, science is very diverse. You've got people who work by themselves, people who work in small groups. I happen to have a very large group of people. It's a lot of fun because I have all sorts of students and post docs talking to me, asking questions and they teach me an awful lot more than I teach them. But we also work a lot collaboratively with other laboratories at Davis. The idea that we are trying to do science at interface between fields rather than focusing in one discipline is what I found really kind of interesting. But it's critical, Dr. Biology, that we've got different scientists, because there are people that work on one area in a very focused discipline. There are others of us that have never grown up and we like to play in multiple areas. Both kinds of science are very important to society.

Dr. Biology:  Yeah, I think the best part is to think about it as playing. It could be considered serious play but nonetheless, it is the idea that it really is fun.

Bruce:  It is delightful.

Dr. Biology:  What I worry about sometimes is the word finally gets out that the best job you could ever have is a biologist and then it’s going to be tougher for me to get a job or someone else coming along. Because everybody will be doing it and it really is amazing.

Bruce:  But then they'll find out about the pay, Dr. Biology. [laughter]

Dr. Biology:  Well, actually, you mentioned you have a 50 million dollar company. Well, you have to raised 50 million dollar for this company. But how much money did you actually get out of this development so far?

Bruce:  Not much. The university paid me a hot new check of $6,000 for a royalty this year. If you are going to do this as an academic entrepreneur, do it for fun.

Dr. Biology:  And so, that comes back to the fact that yes, it is not necessarily you are going to get rich although that can happen.

Bruce:  It can happen.

Dr. Biology:  I think the best part is if you like or love what you are doing, you can do that every day, you are not really working right?

Bruce:  Don't get that word get out.

Dr. Biology:  When you do 700 papers, man! Even if it's 5 pages per paper, that is a lot of writing. Do you do all the writing?

Bruce:  No. My job with students and post‑doctorals in the lab is to teach them. Usually, the first paper is very painful for both of us. But later, they do the writing and I do the editing.

Dr. Biology:  Right. That red ink. It's interesting, because you and I are old enough to remember red ink before computers. When you saw those things, it is very painful to do the corrections. With the computer today, I absolutely love being able to give my work to someone that is willing to read it and give me their comments, because the corrections aren't that big of a deal. We really learn by doing.

Bruce:  Yes, that's true.

Dr. Biology:  In the writing process and in the science process, do you enjoy writing?

Bruce:  I do enjoy the writing because I learn from major professor that it's a trick to go back and re‑examine the data again and think about the data very hard. The writing mechanically is a pain sometimes but the intellectual process of thinking about what it means and the fallacies of your thoughts are really valuable and fun.

Dr. Biology:  Right. You have to tell the story. Even if it's science, you are telling the story. You have to make sure the facts, the information you gather make sense. You have to tell it in a way someone can understand.

Bruce:  But not only understand, Dr. Biology. They got to find it fun. You hit a key point that if you just present facts, that's your obligation to science but it is boring as hell. But if you tell a story, it is interesting and memorable and it makes you think about your day really hard and ask do they actually support the story you are telling?

Dr. Biology:  Right. And not only do you get to write, you get to have pictures as well. And sometimes, there are diagrams. In your case, you showed this really beautiful structure of what you are working on. Whether it is 3D structures of the compound and I actually drew a little sketch, because I can now remember a little green ball, little blue ball for the parts of the structure. This is protein structure and there are two components.

Bruce:  It's a dimmer, which means two parts and it is anti‑parallel dimer so one is going this way and one is going this way.

Dr. Biology:  Right.

Bruce:  We have a little ball, a big ball, a little ball, and a big ball.

Dr. Biology:  Right and they line up with each other.

Bruce:  Yeah.

Dr. Biology:  But it is really beautiful and its lacy. It is really cool to look at this structure.

Bruce:  On that, you talked about the picture of an enzyme we are working on. It really points out how many different fields come together. That was an X‑ray picture. The ability to take a picture of a single protein that is far too small to ever seen in a microscope can only happen because other scientists were working in the field of X‑rays. Still others were working in the field of optics. Still others working in the field of computer science to be able to generate that pretty picture that I showed.

Dr. Biology:  Right. Not only do your science, but be willing and able to talk to other scientists and learn from each other and use their skills to build our bank of knowledge thinking about business type of term. All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about your hobby here. You like to climb mountains.

Bruce:  I like to climb mountains. For a number of years, I taught climbing at UC but they decided I was too old. So now, I am teaching water kayaking. [laughter]

Dr. Biology:  OK. I don't know if that one is better than the other one actually. When you talk about mountain climbing, you showed actually a photo of your son who was actually climbing a rock face. We are not just talking about just back packing in this case right?

Bruce:  No. That was Mount Humphries in the Eastern Sierra, an absolutely lovely mountain.

Dr. Biology:  Right. OK, well, this is serious stuff. Now, on Ask A Biologist, I asked three questions of all my scientists. And these are...

Bruce:  That's scary.

Dr. Biology:  Yeah, it is, isn't it? It's not like you are in competition, but they usually reveal a little bit about yourself. The first one is pretty simple one. Do you remember when you knew you were going to be a scientist? Was there an ‘aha’ moment or was there a spark somewhere?

Bruce:  There were probably lots of moments that from my earliest memories, I like to collect insects. I enjoyed looking at wild flowers. I just absolutely love biology and then that matured to a degree in forestry and working in entomology. But if there was one instant, it was reading a paper in scientific American by a man name Carol Williams, son of a southern Baptist preacher who thought he could remove all ants from picnics with a magical golden oil. I found his paper really inspiring. In a way, I'm still working in the same area.

Dr. Biology:  What is your favorite insect species?

Bruce:  That's a hard question because I don't have one. My favorite yesterday was a turquoise ant that we found in Sedona. I've never seen anything like it and I asked your ant biologist and every one gave me a different answer.

Dr. Biology:  Really?

Bruce:  Anyway, it is a really, really interesting metallic turquoise creature. Really fascinating!

Dr. Biology:  Did you collect it or did you take a picture?

Bruce:  I should have. But no, I didn't. And last night, I went on a walk in the desert and I was looking at ant lions. These are little creatures that dig the triangle pit in the ground. They are so cute. You can follow their trails across the desert as they move from one pit to another. As a kid, I raised praying mantises, wheel bugs. Maybe my favorite insect pet is a wheel bug. I raised it from an egg. I thought it was my friend. One day, when it was an inch and a half long, it decided I might taste good. And it was no longer my friend.


Dr. Biology:  Really it bit you?

Bruce:  It did.

Dr. Biology:  Oh! Describe a wheel bug. I'm afraid I don't know...

Bruce:  Well, the technical name is a Reduviidae. A bug, which means it’s got a long snout like a drinking straw. It has what looks like a gear on its thorax. They stick their snout into other insects. Inject the fluid that dissolves the pray and then they suck it out.

Dr. Biology:  Oh!

Bruce:  I thought that he was really into eating other insects but one day, he decided I was tasty and he left quite a little pit in my arm.

Dr. Biology:  It wasn't really biting you. It was actually injecting some of that material, in this case, probably an enzyme that was breaking down the cells around there and turning you into a little stew.

Bruce:  Right and then, he slurp it right back up.

Dr. Biology:  Well, I would say it is not your friend either.

Bruce:  That's true. I didn't squash him though. Dr. Biology. It was still a pet.

Dr. Biology:  That's very commendable. All right. Let's switch to question two. I’m going to take away all your science. You can't be a biologist. You can't be a scientist any type. What would you be and what would you do?

Bruce:  I would spend my life climbing mountains. But the fact is, if I did, I'll be dead, because I am not a very good mountain climber. Or kayaking but I'll be dead, because I am not a very good kayaker. That's why I am such a good teacher because I remember what it's like to be a beginner. Something at somewhat a different stand point but yet related to what I do is friend and I have been talking about starting a venture capital company where we try to fund very early stage science. Because we have, at least in our area, a really good feel for what can be turned into a real product and what can't in a very limited field.

And so, rather than be a big venture capital company that does thumbs up and thumbs down on a wide range of technologies would be in fact a focus on areas that a few of us really understood and try to help younger scientists move their technology into the private sector.

Dr. Biology:  Right these venture capitalists that are the ones that are the businessmen that have the money and they go out there and they say, "What am I going to invest in?" When I do this investment, what am I going to get paid in the end? Not always and unfortunately a lot of times, they don't have the science background. This is great. "OK. I'll take that expertise and make use of it. I'll buy that. That works."

Bruce:  Or would you pay me to climb mountains?

Dr. Biology:  Well, from reading about you, I think I am going to pay you to be a venture capitalists. But on Sundays, I'll let you climb or on Saturdays. I'll let you climb mountains but be careful please. All right, the last question and this could be very fun. It's probably something you were asked. What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a scientist? Or maybe someone who already knows they are scientist but they need to know what's the path that I should take?

Bruce:  I think the first thing is to look at the mirror and say, is it fun to be a biologist? If you find it fun, it's what you ought to do because it is if you enjoy it, it is just an absolutely delightful career. You never have to grow up. Scientists, when they get together, always complain about the problems and yet they are still doing it. To really think do I want to be a biologist, do I really love the biology and then it's clear sailing. You can't do anything else.

Dr. Biology:  I'm going to slip back to the business side. Your focus has always been the world of science but it turns out that you needed to take on a business component just to be able to move this drug further along. What is it like to get into the world of business?

Bruce:  I found most of the people in the venture field to be very professional, very competent, very profit driven because they are in fact obligated to the people that in a sense loan them the money to invest. I did not find the universities to be particularly altruistic. They seem to be very greedy, very self-centered and in fact, very inefficient. As a society, we need to figure out how do we make universities better able to transfer technology.

Dr. Biology:  Right. Maybe the universities aren't skilled. Maybe they aren't as educated as they think they are in this area. Maybe they need to go to school. [laughter]

Bruce:  I think that one can argue that.

Dr. Biology:  Well, Bruce Hammock, it's been great. I really appreciate you taking the time and I really enjoyed reading about you. It was just amazing.

Bruce:  Thank you, Dr. Biology.

Dr. Biology:  You've been listening to Ask A Biologist and my guest has been biochemist. No, maybe we call him an entomologist. How about we just settle on biologist? Bruce Hammock from the University of California Davis.

The Ask A Biologist podcast is produced in the campus of Arizona State University and it is recorded in the Grass Roots Studio, housed in the School of Life Sciences, which is a division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

And remember, even though our program is not broadcast live. You can still send us your question about biology using our companion website. The address is or you can just Google the words Ask a Biologist. I'm Dr. Biology.


Transcription by CastingWords

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