Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day

I listened to someone speak today about Labor Day, and he subsequently got into the area of how it is typical for Americans to want more from their jobs than to merely provide money for food, shelter and clothing. A lot of us at least partly define ourselves by our work, and we want to be seen as doing work that has some purpose.

He mentioned how even people who do repetitive jobs tend to seek ways to improve the job they do, or some component of the process. And finally, many of us wish to grow in our jobs; we want to be doing a job where we can learn new things.

Then again, our "work" may not involve our job. I have heard of people staying in dead-end jobs because of the health care benefits, and wonder if those people have other outlets.

As for me, I like my job. I also see my work as involving things outside my job. Of course being mom to the fabulous Mr W is right up there, as well as being a good partner to CB, and being a good friend, family member, neighbor, and member of my community. I also do things for my own pleasure, like knitting, that mostly count as, I don't know, 'self therapy'?

I posted earlier that I would try to get an answer to the question "what do you do for a living?" after CB's co-workers asked me and I felt I gave them a mediocre answer.

I work in a lab whose purpose is to study the Ecology and Entomology of mosquitoes that are disease vectors. So much of what is known about mosquito taxonomy is based on morphology alone, that we do a lot of work with DNA-based molecular markers (you know, bands on a gel) to help determine species' distribution, and also information about particular species at the population level

These are different levels of organization. With the taxonomy, the species is the basic level, so we use markers that show differences among species. With the population-level stuff, we look at markers that are more variable, and thus let us characterize the amount of diversity within and between populations.

Who cares? Well, the population-level analyses let us see how two closely-related subspecies grade into one another across a hybrid zone, and also to characterize the degree of hybridization. For example, it looks like, at least in the lab, some hybrids are capable of exhibiting heterosis, where the hybrids show a more extreme version of a trait (like vector competence) than either parental species.

So my job involves both finding markers that we can use to characterize species at the level of populations, and analyzing samples of mosquito populations from wherever. Still doesn't quite roll off the tongue, though.

I use DNA markers to examine differences between species of disease-carrying mosquitoes.


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Hi, sorry to make the humans do an extra step.