Open Spaces: Careers in Conservation: DNA and Inspiration from Above

Careers in Conservation: DNA and Inspiration from Above

By Jennifer Von Bargen, USFWS

Why I do what I do? The simple answer … God. He has given me the drive, passion and opportunity for learning about the intricate and complicated systems of science.

As a kid I loved animals and learning about the world we live in. I had dreams of becoming a veterinarian to help and be with animals. My family went fishing often in the summers and my father was an avid hunter. I loved helping him clean the fish and learn about their inner secrets. What they were eating, where it went, and how it all worked together.

vonbargenWorking in the lab. (Photo: USFWS)

Then in my ninth grade biology class my future was sealed. I learned about the one thing that links all living things together ... DNA!

From there on I was hooked!



This simple molecule holds the blue prints to life and never ceases to amaze me. A code of only four letters (A, C, G, and T) gives our world it’s amazing diversity. Yet if you unraveled these tight bundles of DNA and laid them end to end, the DNA would stretch to over 1 meter long and that is in each one of our cells!

Once I found out about DNA it was just a matter of gaining the knowledge and watching for God’s doors to open. The first door opened after I started college when my college advisor happened to go to a symposium and met a USDA scientist in need of a part time technician. She had a student from my university working in her lab previously and liked the quality of work they were getting. I took the job and worked there throughout the rest of college applying directly what I was learning to what I was doing in the lab.

The molecular biology of what DNA was and how it worked was now engrossed in my system and, there was no getting away from it. Then more doors opened for me when I graduated. By this time I was getting married and moving, so I started talking with the agencies and laboratories in the area. Three days after I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Molecular Biology, a lab position opened at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. By the end of that summer I was married and starting a career with fish.

One of the best parts of my job and working with DNA is that technology is always changing. Every day it amazes me how much we are still learning about this tangle of molecules and what it can tell us. There is always something new to learn from DNA and now we can do much of the work with little to no impact on the organism. As technology has increased, our knowledge has as well, and it is becoming easier to do more with less.

Jennifer Von Bargen is a Lab Geneticist at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center in Washington State

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Last updated: June 21, 2012