There are many big questions that Julianne Grose, associate professor of microbiology and molecular biology, loves exploring while researching biology.
What exactly is life?
How was the great diversity of life created and how is it evolving?
How does one classify life?
But of all these questions, her favorite is: What is the unique role of each diverse form of life?
The abundance and diversity of life "means that in order to succeed on the planet, a species must have a purpose and a place," Grose said during a BYU devotional in the de Jong Concert Hall on May 21.
For instance, many studies have shown that removing the sea otter from a habitat can lead to an increase in sea urchins, a decrease in kelp beds, and alterations to wave action and siltation. "In these cases, the sea otter had a much higher impact on the ecology than what was expected from their sheer numbers," she said.
Grose studies bacteriophages, or viruses that infect and kill bacteria. While most people think of viruses as something bad, viruses "contribute to the health of our planet by regulating the levels of bacteria in an ecological system," she said.
In particular, they can infect and kill antibiotic resistant bacteria, giving an alternative treatment when there are no other treatment options. Students at BYU were able to do just this by isolating some of these viruses and using them to treat a sea turtle named Shelly who had an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection.
The inter-related nature of life is complex and highly variable, Grose said, "as is the individual and essential roles that each form of life plays."
After having taught biology at BYU for 11 years, she has been impacted by this same truth. "That each student has an individual and unique role to play. That each student has unique talents and gifts that are not quite the same in any other person."
The life of Anne Frank exemplifies the effect that one individual can have. While Anne and her family hid in an annex in the Netherlands for two years, she used writing in a diary as an outlet.
In 1944, while listening to the radio, she heard Dutch Cabinet Minister Gerritt Bolkstein say, "History cannot be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone. If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents."
"Anne immediately had a purpose," Grose said. She began rewriting her diary into a book that she could share with the world.
Unfortunately, a few months later, the police became aware of their hiding place and arrested the eight people living in the annex. Of those eight, only Otto Frank, Anne's father, survived.
But Anne's diary survived as well and today, millions of people have read it. "It has inspired countless, including survivors of similar unimaginable difficulties," Grose said.
The big question of life is how one finds his or her own talents and purpose in life, she continued. During her time at BYU, she's seen how God cares for each student individually.
On three separate occasions, she had to find funds to enable a student to be trained in scientific research. Though each of them had a great desire to be trained and use their talents, Grose did not have the funding to accept another student. "Knowing that the student needed the funds immediately, when usually it takes six to 12 months for me to get grant funding, I turned to prayer," she said.
Within a few days on each of these occasions, a funding opportunity appeared out of the blue with little effort on her part. "Let me tell you that this does not happen," Grose said. "Nor is it likely to happen to me again unless the Lord is moving mountains on a student's behalf."
Life will not be easy, nor will all prayers be immediately answered in such an obvious way, she cautioned. "But what I do know is that when we rely on our Savior and ask for His help, He will help us and we can have our 'peace be as a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea,' as Isaiah has written" (Isaiah 48:18).
In closing, Grose left everyone, including herself, "with the admonition of Alma to experiment upon the word — to ask the Lord about our individual worth, our talents and the pathways we should go to become our best selves."