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Monday, April 21 2014 @ 03:04 AM EDT

Couple to Talk About Rainforest Research

Teak & Reforestation By Susan Whitney for the Deseret Morning News - Fifteen years ago, Phyllis Coley and her husband, Thomas Kursar, decided they had a moral obligation to save the rainforests of Panama. But they realize now that they were quite naive. They were (and are) biologists at the University of Utah, doing the kind of research that is standard in biology. Coley knows a lot about plant physiology, and Kursar knows a lot about ecology, but neither is an expert at discovering new pharmaceuticals. Neither has a degree in economic development. And yet because they spend four months of the year in the tropics of Panama, they were the ones to realize, in fact, it is possible to save the rainforests. They realized drug research could trump logging. Coley and Kursar may have been the first to envision first- rate laboratories being built in Panama, laboratories that would lure Panamanian-born scientists back from their careers in the United States and Europe. They were definitely the ones who went out and got grants and made it happen. Although, they explain, they knocked on doors for five years before they could find anyone to listen. Coley and Kursar's story is glamorous in some ways and not so glamorous in others. (One nonglam detail: They job-share, which means they each work 80 hours a week and get paid for 15.) They will tell their story on Tuesday in a talk titled "Ecology, Drug Discovery and Conservation: Research in the Panamanian Rainforest." Theirs is part of a series of lectures sponsored by the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Nature Conservancy.
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