With her headlamp off, Jasmin Camacho couldn’t see a thing, but she could hear it. Inside an abandoned Caribbean water tank, hundreds of bats swirled around her head, squeaking and beating their fleshy wings. Cockroaches skittered underfoot, over unforgettably pungent guano.
Camacho stood still, waiting for calm. Then she got to work, gingerly capturing leaf-nosed bats, whose strange facial structure she would study.
Camacho grew up obsessed with the pet store where her father worked in Salinas, Calif. She wasn’t allowed to have pets, so she instead kept a mental encyclopedia of species she’d read about, seen on Animal Planet, or spotted at the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Her curiosity led her, a first-generation college student, to UC Davis, where she looked to animals for insights on cell regeneration after injuries and burns. Through that work, she found Darwin’s finches, with their many face shapes. And then, her beloved bats. “I was hooked,” she told STAT. “I’m like, ‘This is what I want to spend the next six years of my life doing.’”
She’s been busy, with hundreds of bat-collecting expeditions, and stints at Harvard, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. She’s received so many awards — over $1.6 million in grants — that she had to decline some to accept others. Camacho is now a Hanna H. Gray Fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, with funding for her postdoctoral research on the healthy metabolism of sugar-loving nectar bats and then, for her very own lab.
— Isabella Cueto