My name is Sara Wilbur. I’m the author of the LIFE Apps blog Minutiae: Insights into Tiny Biology. I’d like to share some of my background and what is to come with this writing project.


Me and Junie in the White Mountains, Alaska, March 2017. Photo by Jason Clark.

The pendulum swings

My life has felt like a pendulum, with the weight of my interest always swinging between music and science. First came music, with its private violin lessons, youth symphony and competitions. Later came science, with its sense of discovery and assurance of fact through repeatability and peer review.

Inspired by a wonderful high school teacher, I decided to pursue biology as my major at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. It was in my animal physiology course there that I was exposed to two concepts that would later inspire my graduate work: hibernation physiology and telomere dynamics. Telomeres are the protective end sequences of our chromosomes – I’ve written about them before for LifeOmic, here. Alongside my science classes and lab time, I also pursued a music minor.

Cue pendulum swing: a year after graduating with my B.S., I found myself in adorable Ashland, OR. I settled into playing with the Rogue Valley Symphony and in a folk band called Patchy Sanders. Science was absolutely on the back burner, and nary a peer-reviewed journal article did I read for over six years.

Return to Fairbanks and academia

With the band’s conclusion in 2015 came a world of potential opportunity. However, instead of traveling to more exotic destinations, I returned to Fairbanks to be close to family and to attend graduate school in biology. It felt right to come back to science — I had satisfied my curiosity of a life supported solely by music, and while that life was fulfilling in many ways, I wanted to re-integrate into a scientific community.

Although I’ve encountered many challenges since starting my master’s, I am grateful to have taken this step to further my scientific education and to know that what I’ve learned along the way will be with me throughout my life.

Aurora borealis near Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Robert Baker on Unsplash.

Health and molecular interests

Since my early twenties, health has been of great interest to me, particularly the benefits of eating local and how agriculture impacts the environment. As a budding molecular biologist, my health interests have recently microscope-d to the much smaller world of our cells. For example, our lifestyle can impact the protective ends of our chromosomes, called telomeres. This has implications for diseases of aging.

Through my LIFE Apps blog Minutiae: Insights into Tiny Biology, I’d like to detail the many molecular processes that I find fascinating, addressing such questions as: How do antioxidants work? What are the pathways of metabolism? How do animals stay warm, especially during hibernation? What are the human health implications of telomere length change with age, hibernation, etc? How do our genes actually influence how we look and behave? And many others. Perhaps I’ll also explain how scientists are analyzing protein structure data with music to fully and finally integrate my two life interests.

Have questions you’d like me to explore in my blog posts about animal physiology, telomere biology or another topic altogether? Let me know!

Arctic ground squirrel in Arctic Alaska. Photo by Øivind Tøien, Institute of Arctic Biology, Copyright © 2013.

Featured image: Mitochondria from Citellus lateralis. Photo by Jeffrey Pudney, Cell Image Library.