When Jasmin Camacho, PhD, arrived at Stowers in 2020, she brought with her a passion for animals. That passion first manifested itself in her childhood desire to become a veterinarian. However, as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, a course in evolution about Darwin’s finches from the Galapagos Islands inspired her to pursue a career in evolutionary and developmental biology.
Camacho headed to Harvard to study under Arhat Abzhanov, PhD, who had conducted the study on Darwin’s finches that had originally inspired her at UC Davis. As a graduate student in the Department of Organismic Evolutionary Biology she was exposed to a diverse collection of research organisms including penguins, emus, crocodiles, axolotls, cavefish, mice, jerboas, chickens, and ducks. But Camacho wasn’t satisfied with any of those. She wanted to study something more unusual – bats.
Bats are one of the most diverse groups of animals and have adapted to the food they eat, much like Darwin’s finches. She chose nectar bats, whose long faces are equipped with a highly modified tongue with tiny hairs on the end, which they use to lap up nectar from flowers. Nectar bats must consume their weight in sugar-rich nectar to sustain their high metabolism. In any other animal, this high sugar diet would induce a diabetic coma. How their metabolism adapted to accommodate that much sugar while remaining healthy is what Camacho focuses her research on.
While finishing her PhD at Harvard, a conversation with Stowers Investigator Nick Rohner, PhD, about parallel research interests, career goals, and mentorship ultimately led Rohner to offer Camacho a position in his lab. Despite his lab’s focus on cavefish as a research organism, it was Rohner’s work in the metabolism and evolution of cavefish that had initially motivated Camacho’s studies on glucose metabolism in bats.
Camacho’s research is a mix of bench-based lab work that incorporates computational biology and other cutting-edge technologies with field work that takes her to the bat-saturated jungles of Belize and other Central American and Caribbean countries. The field work provides Camacho with a supply of genetic samples that will establish bats as a research organism at Stowers and enable her and other researchers to examine their cellular mechanisms and genomes.
And, on her most recent trek into the jungle, Camacho came away with more than just bat samples. She and her team discovered what they believe might be an entirely new bat species. Read more about this inspiring researcher’s incredible find in this related article.