Elizabeth and Nathan were an unlikely pair of beetle biologists. As we’ve seen, he was originally interested in working on butterflies — an established system for studying insects and the plants they eat. And she wasn’t even an insect person. Elizabeth started her career as a marine biologist interested in the chemical reactions of hydrothermal vent communities. Her summers were spent at sea probing the ocean’s depths in a deep-sea submarine.
The two met when they taught biology together at Sonoma State University (Elizabeth has since moved to Santa Clara University). Their areas of focus complemented each other perfectly: Nathan was interested in large-scale biology — how organisms interact with one another and their environment to form a functioning ecosystem — while Elizabeth studied what was going on inside an individual organism and what physical and chemical processes were involved in its physiology. Elizabeth attributes the basis of their partnership to “the serendipitous fact that we got hired at the same place the same year and we got thrown in teaching together, so we had trust in each other and knew each others’ strengths.”
They had been collaborating as educators for several years before they realized the potential value of working together as scientists. Elizabeth recalls, “Nathan looked at a poster on my wall, and said, ‘You know something about biochemistry? Because I have this PGI polymorphism…,’ and I was immediately excited.”
Elizabeth knew that PGI seemed to play a role in tuning metabolism to ambient temperature and was eager to work with a system where she could tackle this topic — even if it meant leaving her previous research behind. She took the plunge, switching from the deep sea to California mountaintops. “That was a big choice for me,” she says. “But it immediately became clear this was a much richer system to answer questions I was interested in than what I’d been working on in marine biology. It was the best thing I ever did professionally.”