Assistant Professor Rebecca Calisi Rodriguez, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, was not following the traditional path of a scientist before she entered the world of endocrinology. After studying psychology and studio art at Skidmore College, she decided to follow the path of an artist.
She said that it was difficult for her to get a job in the art industry after she graduated. However, she would take odd jobs whenever they offered them. “One of them was at the Dallas Zoo where they asked me to paint this large mural.
Calisi Rodriguez found her passion for scientific research in the zoo’s animals. It all began with an intriguing animal behavior.
The mural and the okapi
Calisi Rodriguez was commissioned by the zoo to paint a mural for the Wilds of Africa Education Center’s inner wall. Calisi Rodriguez spent many hours at the zoo painting a large African savannah scene. It took her several months. She would take breaks from her work and enjoy a cup with tea and the sounds of nature as her personal soundtrack. MyReadingManga
She said, “That’s when i came across the Okapi, an animal which changed my career path for ever.”
The okapi, a related species to the giraffe is visually stunning. The okapi’s black and white stripes give way to a chocolate-colored, giraffe-like body. Its long, articulate tongue probes around; its ears are up, as if constantly paying attention. Okapi, an endangered species, are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s tropical rain forests. Although current estimates of the population are not reliable, it is estimated that there are between 10,000-50,000 people.
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Calisi Rodriguez stated that the Dallas Zoo had one of the most successful conservation breeding programs for Okapi at the time.
The zoo is a mystery
But there was a problem. The zoo’s Okapi stopped breeding that year. Scientists were baffled and recruited volunteers to solve the mystery. Calisi Rodriguez was intrigued and jumped at the chance. Calisi Rodriguez wanted to touch the velvety fur of the Okapi and soak in its exotic beauty. Reality was quite different.
Calisi Rodriguez said that they handed her a stick and a cup. They said that every time the bladder emptys, it would need to be collected. That was my glamorous job. So I collected okapi pee and recorded the animal that it came from, then rushed it to the lab. chrissy metz weight loss
The scientists discovered an increase in cortisol levels in the urine from Okapi. This hormone is usually a sign that the animal is stressed.
Calisi Rodriguez said, “This is important because cortisol assists the body to utilize energy resources necessary to deal with that stressor. “It is possible for your body to become irritable if you take too much cortisol over a long period of time.”
This also includes the reproductive system which could have explained the low breeding rate in the zoo’s okapi population. The question was, “Why were the Dallas Zoo’s Okapis stressed?”
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“Eureka!” A life-changing moment
Calisi Rodriguez recalls that the Dallas Zoo installed a new manure handling facility at the opposite end to the park around the time the Okapi stopped breeding. The new system was designed like a conveyor belt and carried manure from the holding pen to the other end.
Calisi Rodriguez stated that scientists believed the Okapi, which are sensitive animals, might have detected vibrations from the machine. This could stress them out.
The system was shut down by the zoo. The okapi cortisol levels eventually dropped and the animals began breeding again. Calisi Rodriguez found it an “Aha!” moment when she watched the scientists solve the mystery.
She said that she felt like Dr. Dolittle when the okapi talked to her and told her they were stressed. “But they were doing it through their hormones. “I had to find out more.”
Calisi Rodriguez was inspired by this experience and changed her career goals. Calisi Rodriguez wanted to be a detective and uncover the mysteries of the natural world. After earning her M.S. in biology at University of Texas, Arlington, she returned to school and earned an M.S. She earned an M.S. in biology from the University of Texas at Arlington, and a Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in integrative biology. Calisi Rodriguez has not lost her passion for art and training despite the shift in career.
She said that these experiences have strengthened her ability to see the unseen and attack projects creatively. “All scientists can be considered artists in many ways, and all scientists can be called scientists.”
Thus began a career in science.Bahama Breeze As a National Science Foundation postdoc, she worked at UC Davis and UC San Diego in neurobiology. She also served as a UC President’s postdoc at UC Berkeley in psychology and environmental sciences. Her career took her to the East Coast in 2014 where she was an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Barnard College. She was soon lured back to West Coast by an offer for an assistant professorship at UC Davis.
Calisi Rodriguez today can reflect on her time at the Dallas Zoo, and relate it directly to her work. Her ongoing research focuses on understanding how stress and other environmental factors impact animal reproduction. As a model organism, she uses pigeons, which represent similar biological processes in all vertebrates including humans.
She has proven that there is no set path to a career. This is based on her own unconventional route to UC Davis.
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