The Love of a Scientist

I've often thought that the survival of any given species on the planet today has a lot to do with how much humans love them. You'd better be cute (i.e. pandas), charismatic (i.e. elephants) or useful (i.e. bees), and by virtue of this you will inevitably have a movement of people who want to protect you. But what about the multitudes of species on the planet that have none of these characteristics? If you are an endangered slug, then what? It almost seems as if pleasing humans is the next big selective pressure that all species on the planet will be facing. Like it or not, if you are a non-human species you have to get along with us if you want to survive.

All of us ordinary humans practice natural selection every day. We go out and pull undesirable plants (weeds) from our gardens, we take care of desirable plants which please us with beauty or deliciousness, we do our best to protect those plants from insects, rodents, and diseases. We feed the birds but chase the squirrels away. In the process, we often don't realize that we are participating actively in natural selection. We have shaped the planet and its species in countless ways since the dawn of our species. Now with the explosion of our population on the planet, we may be the biggest driving force of survival or extinction of any species.

One thing I love about advocating for bees is that it is easy to get people on board with protecting and promoting them. It is easy because you can link them to one thing that unites all of us - food. And not just any food, but the foods that we love and enjoy the most - watermelon, tomatoes, cherries, almonds, chocolate, coffee, pumpkin, blueberries, avocados, just to name a few (not to mention honey, in the case of honeybees). These are the foods that give our life richness and make our meals especially enjoyable. Without bees, our diet will be corn, wheat and mushrooms....not terrible, but definitely not as rich and colorful. Bees give us so much, they are easy to advocate for. I often wonder what it would be like to have to advocate for a species which is not all that useful or otherwise appealing to humans. And yet, a perusal of the endangered species list in the US reveals a number of snails, clams, lichens, and other less-than-inspiring creatures. Who can we thank for advocating for these? Scientists, that's who. For a species which lack public interest, the best they can hope for is that there is a scientist somewhere who loves them. Scientists are capable of loving the oddest things. I know scientists who love fungus, who love termites, who love flies, who love bacteria, who love carrion beetles. I even know microbiologists who love deadly pathogens. When talking about an extremely virulent and deadly pathogen she was studying, a biochemist I know exclaimed "I love them! They exhibit such beautiful biochemistry, it amazes me. If they were in my body killing me, I would still be in awe of what they were doing." Whoa!. Talk about unconditional love, that someone could even love something that would kill them. Even though bees are more popular than deadly pathogens, I still get funny looks from a lot of people when I profess my love of them. I can imagine from some people's perspective I am just as crazy as my biochemist friend. Then again she thinks I'm crazy. The reality is all scientists are a little mad. There is a reason for the stereotype of the mad scientist, it is not coincidence! Love makes you crazy, we all know that already. When you love something really odd, it makes you seem even crazier, but you can't help what you love. But thank goodness there are people out there who are able to love these obscure groups of animals and plants and microbes that otherwise would get no attention at all, at least these critters stand a chance in our world if they have a scientist on their side.

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