About

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Who am I?

The traditional answer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biology at University of Washington. But it could also be an individual of Homo sapiens species, who belongs to the Old World population, but now migrated to the New World.

I am deeply fascinated by the natural world. Colorful flowers, cute animals, magnificent landscapes are visual beauty presented by the nature. I appreciate them as most people do. But as a biologist, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to explore and uncover another depth of beauty, the delicate way by which organisms function and interact. There are numerous examples of how creative and beautiful those tricks are, just to name a few: orchids are the masters of camouflage. They are able to produce the same scent emitted by female bees and generate the flower petal mimicking the shape of female bees, to seduce male bees to mate with it. While the male bees try to “mate” with the flowers, they unintentionally transfer the orchid’s pollen among them. You might be wondering how on hell can the orchid “know” what scent and color pattern male bees like? And how can the orchid generate the scent and color pattern, given the fact that animal and plants probably have been separated hundreds of millions years?

If it is still not miraculous enough, how about this one? If you ever watched Pirates of Caribbean, you might still remember the plot “part of the crew, part of the ship” – after serving for years, old “Bootstrap” Bill, crawled with weeds and shells on his heads, becomes part of the ship of Flying Dutch and forgot the life he left behind. Of course we know this is just movie/fiction – something unreal. But I am going to tell you that this could happen, and it is happening on ourselves! This time the crew is virus and our body is the ship. Over the long history of evolution, virus repeatedly invaded human and some virus DNA got preserved in our very own genome – what a scaring fact! We used to think that our genome is like a super accurate watch. Unfortunately, evolution is a blind watchmaker. Instead of being like an accurate watch, our genome is actually more like a hodgepodge – a few functional genes scattered in the ocean of DNA “junks” (whether those sequences are really junks is still controversial).  Appreciate it or not, the “crew” has more diversity than we want and they make contribution to the “ship” – an essential human placenta gene was actually borrowed from an ancient virus!

Amazed by those little secrets of the wonderful natural world, often times, I feel imagination is less miraculous than reality. I consider it a great pity if I live my life while ignoring them.

As an old Chinese saying goes, “it is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books”. Beside science, outdoor is my passion. I like biking, hiking and traveling. (The photo’s background is a beautiful mountain in the province where I am originally from. If you are interested, just google “zhangjiajie” to check out!)

Read more about my research and my blog!