¡Hola from Santiago, Chile!
Along with many other Stanford juniors, I’m studying abroad this fall in one of Stanford’s eleven Bing Overseas Studies campuses. I’ve now been living in South America for seven weeks, and I’ve been fortunate to have had many biological and cultural adventures. Only a day ago I returned from Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in southern Chile. In the wild Patagonian steppe I encountered guanacos (llama-like camelids with particularly combative dispositions), Patagonian grey foxes, Chilean flamingos, Andean condors (which have a wingspan of over 9 feet!), and Darwin’s rhea. Along with this strange flightless bird, I’ve been finding other reminders of señor Carlos Darwin’s travels in Chile. During his voyage of the Beagle, Darwin journeyed both to southern Patagonia and central Chile. A week ago I visited La Campana, a national park an hour outside Santiago that includes a mountain Darwin hiked. However, I have even found traces of Darwin in the metropolis of Santiago, there is a monument dedicated to him on Cerro Santa Lucía, a large hill in the center of the city that he once climbed as well.
Although I came to Chile to explore its wilderness and diverse geography (it seems like they have every type of ecosystem here), I have also come to appreciate the big city life in Santiago. The Stanford campus is located near the financial district of Santiago, or “Sanhattan,” so sometimes I feel out of place among all the suits. While working on my Spanish, I’m also studying the Biodiversity and Ecology of Latin America with Stanford professor Dr. Rodolfo Dirzo, and I’m doing research with El Programa Hantavirus. Currently, we are investigating the genomics of the Andes Hantavirus, a Chilean strain of the virus that made headlines in the US this summer for the outbreak in Yosemite National Park. However, the Andes Hantavirus is even more alarming because along with the traditional mode of transmission from rodents to people, it can also be given from people to people. In order to understand how transmission occurs, we are looking to see if any genetic bottlenecks happen when it passes between Oligoryzomys longicaudatus, the long tailed rice rat, and humans. Therefore, we are sequencing the viral genome from pairs of infected rodents and patients. Hadly lab collaborator, Dr. Pablo Marquet has contributed to understanding the ecology of the virus, and we are also discussing a project to use niche modeling to predict future outbreaks.
I’ve been travelling almost every weekend, getting advice from Hadly lab alum Andy Rominger to take advantage of Chile’s great outdoor opportunities. But after climbing an active volcano, island hopping with Humboldt penguins, and hiking among monkey puzzle tree forests, I think I’m ready to settle down in Santiago (well at least for a few weeks).
I hope everyone is enjoying fall in the lab and on campus. I miss you guys and football season, fingers crossed for a bowl game….Rose bowl perhaps?