In another life
Before beginning this busy spring quarter, we took some time to fantasize what we would have researched in another life!
I totally should/would have been an archaeologist in another life. A symptom of being elementary-school-aged when all these movies came out.
There are so many research questions I would like to be working on if I had more lifetimes to do so. My work is primarily motivated by the conservation of biodiversity, so my current and dreamed-of research questions are applied and aim to effect on-the-ground conservation decisions and actions. One of my favorite alternate-life research topics is in the field of wildlife toxicology, particularly with birds, and more specifically with seabirds. I’d like to examine how birds respond to contaminants physiologically, and what determines whether these will lead to population-level effects. Similar to my work with Bd, this research would allow me to look at the problem at a number of scales, from the molecular level to the population level.
If I were reincarnated as an entirely different scientist in an entirely different life, I would (theoretically) be very interested in studying experimental particle physics. Building and using massive machines, like the large hadron collider at CERN, to recreate the conditions at the very beginning of the universe in order to better understand both its origins and the origins of life as we know it I could imagine being quite exciting. Is the Higgs the final particle? Is the standard model correct? Are there new particles to be discovered... dark matter? Is there evidence for the multi-verse, suggesting the laws of physics operate differently in different universe's and we just so happen to be the lucky ones living in a universe where life is (very tenuously) possible?
Truth of the matter is: I have NO idea, I'm a biologist.
So, more realistically, and certainly more pragmatically, I would be very excited to hunt down and study emerging viruses. In all likelihood, the next pandemic that will cause massive human morbidity and mortality will be the result of either a) a novel virus (either newly emerged or newly formed via antigenic shift) or b) antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens. Much of the interesting ecology, in my view, is in the emergence and spread of new viral pathogens as we have witnessed recently with the Chikungunya and Zika viruses. So, while antibiotic resistance is a much more frightening prospect to me than emerging viruses, the ecology of viral emergence and spread, particularly vector-borne viruses, is both incredibly interesting to me AND incredibly important to human and animal health.
This work would necessarily require spending time in the tropics, which would be great except that literally everything in the tropics is trying to bite, sting, infect or otherwise harm you (even the caterpillars, trust me!), and harboring malaria parasites once was quite enough, thank you very much... even still, I believe this is one of the most important areas of research in disease ecology (and related fields) and would be excited to be a part of it.
In another life, I would explore biomimicry. Animals have figured out incredible ways to do things that humans have not. It would be interesting to see if we could recreate their feats and adapt them to our lives.
If I had to work on something in another life I think it would be the evolution of venom and toxin in herps. I can't say I even know much about this topic, but I remember becoming interested in it when, after incorrectly identifying a Mojave Rattlesnake on a road in Southern New Mexico, I read that different populations of Mojave Rattlesnakes have drastically different types of venom. Some populations have strictly hemotoxic venom while others have a cocktail of hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom!
WTF? How could something so (presumably) chemically complex as venom differ so drastically over such a small geographic area? What are the evolutionary pressures affecting venom's chemical structure? This intraspecies variation in venom/toxin loads and composition occurs in Pacific rattlesnakes (cool article [here](http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/01/27/rattlesnakes-two-hours-apart-pack-totally-different-venoms/)), Tetrodotoxin in newts ([Lee Kats](https://seaver.pepperdine.edu/naturalscience/facultystaff/member.htm?facid=lee_kats) talked a bit about this at an EEMB seminar this year), and many other species of herps. A quick Google shows that people are answering some really interesting questions on this topic, though I won't pretend that I know what is currently an interesting/novel question in this field. Though maybe a perusal of [**Venomous Reptiles and their Toxins**](http://www.amazon.com/Venomous-Reptiles-Their-Toxins-Pathophysiology/dp/0199309396/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_sims?ie=UTF8) will give me the background I need. Or I'll just focus finishing the work I have started because, hey, macroecology and disease ecology are pretty cool too!