Dr. Eugene Cota-Robles - Microbiologist
Download PDF
Do you know what a cell is? Do you know that your body is made up of millions and millions of cells? Each cell in your body is like a miniature home with different rooms called organelles. Each organelle has a different job. There is a garbage disposal and recycling bin, a furnace to keep you warm, and even a computer that stores all of your information. Every living thing including humans, animals, plants, and even bacteria, are made up of cells of different shapes, sizes and functions. As a scientist, I wanted to learn more about cells, and in particular, the cells of bacteria.

When you think of bacteria, it probably makes you want to wash your hands. Everywhere we look we see anti-bacterial soap and medicine to kill bacteria, like those that cause strep throat. Bacteria are tiny little organisms, and they arenít all bad for you. In fact, bacteria helps make yogurt and sourdough bread. It even helps leaves that fall on the ground turn back into dirt. Bacteria were one of the first living creatures on the planet. In some fossils, bacteria have been found that are 3.5 billion years old!

When I was a graduate student at University of California, Davis, I began learning more about bacterial cells. Human and plant cells are much bigger than bacterial cells. Imagine that one of your cells is the size of your house. Now try to imagine that your whole house fits inside your mailbox! This is the scale on which we were working.

Through years of hard work, I was able to identify how the basic components of bacterial cells are arranged, and I learned that they are very efficient in their use of space and energy.

Growing up as one of eleven children, I appreciate the space efficiency of a bacterium! I was born in Nogales, Arizona, in 1926, and when I was four years old my family moved to Tucson. When I walked to school I would pass by the Carnegie Public Library and stop in to read. I especially liked reading about the Civil War and Stonewall Jackson.

After high school, my college education was interrupted by World War II and I joined the Navy. After the war, the GI Bill was very helpful in my attending college, and I went to The University of Arizona. Originally I was studying to be a dentist, but then I took a course in bacteriology. My teacher got me so interested in microbiology and bacteriology that I decided to change my major. Later I went to the University of California, Davis to get my Ph.D. I learned a lot and worked very hard in graduate school, but one thing that sticks out in my mind are the friends that I made. Working in a lab is like forming a small community that can become as close as a family.

I worked at the University of California, Santa Cruz as a professor for many years and it was very rewarding. However, a scientist does more than just teach and work in a laboratory. Doing useful science is costly and money has to be raised to fund scientific studies. One of the most important organizations that gives money to support science is the National Science Foundation (NSF). For six years, I was a member of the National Science Board. The Board sets policy for NSF and that in turn impacts the direction of science and science education in this country. Later I actually worked at NSF as a special advisor to the Director.

Now that I am retired, I work with minority youngsters, particularly Latinos, and encourage them to prepare well for college. Education is very important. Education brings you knowledge, a career, and most of all, community.

Home | About SACNAS | National Conference | Advertisers | Biography Project |
Job Opportunities | Membership | Student Programs | Sponsors | Contact Us