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Epulopiscium fishelsoni, Big Bug Baffles Biologists!

Presenter: Peggy E. Pollak, Ph.D and Dr. W. Linn Montgomery

Autobiographical Sketch of Dr. Peggy Pollak

Dr. Peggy PollakI was a prodigy in high school biology. I was so good that I convinced the Biology Department at Wellesley College to admit me into a sophomore biology class as a freshman, circumventing basic freshman biology. I promptly flunked it and did not take another biology class, electing instead to pursue a degree in political science with a minor in sociology.

The weekend after graduation, I got married and hit the road to see the USA in a VW van with my hirsute husband, two dogs, and a cat. This was my hippy phase. We landed in Colorado where we bought acreage with the house that had been headquarters to an old ranch and began to raise our own food, both meat and vegetable, my mountain-mama phase. This ended with the breakup of our marriage.

I hit the road again, with my guitar and dog, this time in a pick-up truck. We were gypsies for awhile, working in the mountains of Wyoming, South Texas, Wyoming again, the plains this time, and Tucson, Arizona where my biker-mama phase commenced. Tucson had a strong influence on my development. I had, by this time, realized that I was not trained for any specific career and, having both an artistic bent and having fallen in love with the Tucson landscape, I made the life decision to become a landscape architect. I started back to school to pursue this objective.

Life, however, took me to Flagstaff, Arizona where the university lacked a department in landscape architecture. I figured to get some of the obvious basic courses out of the way and enrolled in a section of Botany taught by H. Lloyd Mogensen. That was the beginning of my born-again brain phase which has lasted until the present. I fell in love with botany. I would have followed Dr. Mogensen through fire. He guided me through an MS and Ph.D. at Northern Arizona University, the beginning of my life work and career in botany.

One of the ironies of my life choices is that, as an undergraduate at Wellesley, I had seen an electron microscope for the first time and vowed never to have anything to do with one. I was also determined never to teach (in my view a thankless occupation), and never to have kids (annoying and noisy). Under Dr. Mogensen's guidance, I completed both my advanced degrees working on electron microscope projects and went on to do a Post-Doc at Washington State University, also in electron and molecular cell biology. I am currently a lecturer at Northern Arizona University where my primary responsibility is teaching. And, yes, I have three kids.

Funding, Honors and Ongoing Research

Doctor Peggy Pollak's lowkey and amusing autobiographical sketch shows the twists and turns that led to a career in science in the 60's and 70's. Her adventurous nature turned inward where she found that she could combine her creative instincts with her sense of awe and curiosity about nature. She has received funding from The Tobias Landau Foundation, The Society for the Sigma Xi, the National Geographic Society, The National Science Foundation (to develop a summer science program for high school students), Galgon Industries, the National Council of State Garden Clubs, and numerous grants from Northern Arizona University internal funds resources including professional development funding, funding for curriculum devlelopment and as a sponsor of graduate student research at Northern Arizona University. She was and continues to be honored by her peers and associates--witness this listing of her honors and awards: Dean's List Northern Arizona University, DuBois Scholar, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Graduate Scholarship in Biology N.A.U., Graduate Professional Opportunities Program, Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs Scholar, Achievement Reward for College Scientist, Sigma-Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research, and National Federation of Garden Clubs Scholar. She maintains a rich professional association with organizations in her field of specialization and higher education and is or has been a member of the following professional societies: Botanical Society of America, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Arizona/Nevada Academy of Science, American Institute of Biological Sciences, International Society for Plant Molecular Biology, Association for Women in Science, American Society of Plant Physiologists, Sigma Xi. We are privileged to have her and her husband Dr. Linn Montgomery present this very interesting SciTalk on Epulopiscium fishelsoni, the world's largest bacterium. Together they have published on it's life history and biology, and named it. Recently, they've done some DNA sequencing of this fascinating giant cell in an effort to determine its phylogenetic relationships. That work has not yet been published but we hope to have some of it presented here in their SciTalk.

Autobiographical Sketch of Dr. W. Linn Montgomery

Dr. Linn MontgomeryI was born in Detroit, but 5 years later we moved to Crown Point, near San Diego. Our house there was one block from Mission Bay, which at that time (prior to dredging and development) had expansive mudflats and deep channels where I enjoyed hunting for interesting creatures and fishing for croakers, live-bearing seaperches, stingrays, and a variety of other fishes.

Later, we moved to La Jolla, where I snorkeled, surfed and fished. As a teenager in the 60's I was SCUBA certified, and so I spent a good deal of time looking carefully at sea creatures--contributing to my interest in marine science. About that time, I met the ichthyologist Dick Rosenblatt at La Jolla's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He helped me with my science fair projects, introduced me to other Scripps scientists and to the scientific literature (well before I was fully able to understand it). This stimulated my curiousity and desire to learn more so that I could read and understand that literature, and a decade or so later, Dick and I published a scientific description of a new species of flashlight fish I discovered in the Gulf of California.

As an undergraduate amidst the political turmoil at U.C. Berkeley from 1964-1968, I was exposed to complex questions about personal philosophy and ethics, people from many nations and cultures, and to some of the finest minds in biology and other disciplines. Those rich and tumultuous four years convinced me that the diversity of opportunity and experiences to be found in a University setting matched my own life and career desires. I also met George Barlow, a person who remains one of my most important mentors. He is a leading fish ethologist (a biologist who studies wild animal behavior), who happened also to be one of Dick Rosenblatt`s closest friends! Barlow helped me with my first detailed review of the scientific literature (including a section on flashlight fish, one of which I would discover a few years later). He assisted me as well with what I consider to be my first carefully done research project, a study of herbivorous fishes, which I published in the mid-1970`s and which was the precursor to my doctoral dissertation research.

After Berkeley I went to graduate school at UCLA, but like many of my classmates I was drafted into the Army--the Vietnam conflict interrupted the lives and careers of many young men at that time. After two years with the army in Texas and North Carolina, I returned to UCLA and conducted research in the Gulf of California under the direction of Boyd Walker, the leading authority on Gulf fishes, who also happened to be Barlow and Rosenblatt`s advisor for their Ph.D.`s. I completed my M.S. with him in 1973, and continued with doctoral studies st Arizona State University. Shelby Gerking, an authority on nutrition in fishes, was my advisor there and I worked under his direction on the ecology and physiology of herbivorous damselfishes in the lower Gulf of California.

I then completed two years of postdoctoral study at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, with research on sea-run brook trout and the reproductive ecology of Atlantic salmon in Quebec. At WHOI, I worked with one of the world`s leading river ecologists, Bob Naiman, who I had known at both UCLA and Arizona State. I have been at Northern Arizona University since that time where my research has followed two two major lines of inquiry: the biology of herbivorous fishes, which now has extended into the study of lipid dynamics and of giant bacteria inhabiting the intestines of herbivorous surgeonfishes; and reproductive behavior in fishes, extending the work done in Quebec on Atlantic salmon and later involving mass spawning aggregations of Red Sea surgeonfishes.

In thinking about my career path I can point to three equally important lessons I learned along the way: First, learn from, value, and develop lasting positive relationships with mentors and others in your field, for you will certainly encounter them again and will benefit from both what they have taught you and the people whose lives they have touched. Purely by accident, there have been strong personal links among my most important mentors, and they have contributed extensively to my professional growth and success. Second, develop broad knowledge in the sciences. If you are an ecologist, learn physiology and biochemistry. If you are a cell biologist, learn ecology and behavior and organismal physiology. With broad training, you will be able to recognize important problems in other disciplines and develop collaborations with those who know the techniques you will need to attack those problems. Third, be prepared for serendipity to play an important role in your career. Accidental discoveries of spawning by premigratory male Atlantic salmon, as well as giant bacteria, seasonal lipid dynamics, and mass spawning aggregations of tropical surgeonfishes, have led me to work in Quebec, Newfoundland, Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, Tahiti, Australia and Israel. The excitement to be found in research science is not only to be found in isolation of the laboratory, and my life has itself been enriched by my experiences and colleagues as I studied fish biology.

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