Epulopiscium fishelsoni, Big Bug Baffles Biologists!
Autobiographical Sketch of Dr. Peggy Pollak
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.
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.
your question for Dr. Pollak and/or Dr. Montgomery.