We Answer to the Nucleotide Chain Gang

This week on Inspiration Dissemination our featured guest is our very own Zhian Kamvar aka DJ CATGAG the co-host and co-founder of our weekly broadcast. Before his radio and phytopathological fame, Zhian was an eager biologist and a DJ by a different name! All will unfold during this week’s episode, but I will supply some teasers to get the oospore rolling.

Zhian got interested in biology while in high school in California where he wanted to become a mortician…yes we all were very surprised (but not really) to learn this. Like any aspiring mortician, Zhian used the internet to find out how he should focus his studies and achieve his goal. Anatomy and Physiology were high on the list. Zhian was fascinated with many aspects of human biology particularly respiration and circulatory processes that “just happen.” For example, the human heart pump blood throughout the body 80 times per minute with no conscious intention of the individual. That was only the tip of the iceberg and his enthusiasm continued to grow while in his first genetics course in college at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. This is when everything changed for Zhian and he decided to forgo his dream of becoming a mortician and focus on genetics. After a rough start at scaling the learning curve, Zhian aced Advanced Genetics and began an undergraduate research project investigating the that genes are responsible for making cultivars of corn grow and develop differently. A pivotal and proud moment for Zhian was presenting a poster at a national conference; this was only one of the many conferences that would follow.

Zhian seems very normal and boring, but wait!

Zhian poses with a petri dish containing a cultured specimen of the plant destroyer Phytophthora syringae. (Photo Credit: Lindsey Thiessen)

During his time at Truman State University, Zhian stumbled upon and promptly crashed into a gig as a radio DJ for the Truman State College Radio Station-KTRM “The Edge”. Zhian’s shows hosted the metal, vinyl, and classical genres. One of Zhian’s shows was a morning show called “Up Late with a Vampire,” a classical music hour for your morning commute in nowhere Missouri. Thus began our own DJ CATGAG’s life as a radio DJ subjecting us to his diverse musical taste. Zhian is not only a music connoisseur, from the common to the obscure, but also Zhian made and produced some of his own music, OH YES we have samples to play this Sunday! First, Zhian mixed electronic tunes as…wait for it…DJ Poopslice! Then his sound truly took form as Not Jeremy Jones where he explored harsh noise and “poplematic” (problematic pop) music.

Also, worth mentioning that after graduating from Truman State Zhian took a solo trip to Daegu, South Korean where he taught English for 3 years. In South Korea, Zhian did a lot of reading in his free time and decided he really missed participating science and research. He decided it was then time to apply to graduate school.

Zhian demonstrating functionalities of his software package, poppr, to a workshop at the American Phytopathological Society meeting in 2015 (Photo Credit: Sydney Everhart) (From twitter: https://twitter.com/SydneyEverhart/status/627546826246221824)

Zhian demonstrating functionalities of his software package, poppr, to a workshop at the American Phytopathological Society meeting in 2015 (Photo Credit: Sydney Everhart) (From twitter)

Lucky for us, (and I mean that sincerely) he was accepted to Oregon State University Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. Zhian is part of the lab of Nik Grünwald where he studies the population genetics of plant destroyers in the genus Phytophthora, specifically Phytophthora syringae and Phytophthora ramorum (this one is the pathogen responsible for Sudden Oak Death). These organisms are fungi-like and usually reproduce asexually, but they do have sex when conditions are good. His dissertation focuses on diversity of Phytophthora populations. Basically, if a population is very diversified than the effect of the pathogen on the plants involved is going to be harder to manage; whereas a population of clones may be taken out uniformly. In addition to interpreting population genetics, Zhian has been working to develop software tools that will help others to analyze data to study the genetics of other organisms. His R package called poppr allows users to analyze and visualize the distribution of genetic diversity in a population. Zhian does very great work, and we are sad to know that soon he will finish his dissertation and leave the Inspiration Dissemination team.

This is an episode you will not want to miss. Tune in at 7 pm on Sunday, August 14 to KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or stream the show live.

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