Cone snails

I love the ocean.  I love the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand beneath my toes and the amazing creatures that live in the deep.  This is strange because I’m a lousy swimmer and I don’t actually enjoy going in the water much.

Anyway, one of the groups of amazing groups of sea creatures are the cone snails.  They have incredibly beautiful shells (my favorite is the textile cone, 2nd from the right in the photo).  The beauty of their shells often causes people to pick them up, which is an incredibly bad idea because the snails are quite venomous.

Cone snails don’t hunt by sight, but instead use a highly sensitive olfactory organ to taste the water and sense incoming prey.  When a cone snail senses a fish it will extend its proboscis and then fire a tethered harpoon-like radula tooth.  This harpoon acts as a hypodermic needle delivering venom and paralyzing the fish almost instantaneously.  The venom contains literally hundreds of different toxins (called conotoxins), each targeting a specific nerve channel.

While finishing my undergraduate degree I had the privilege of hearing a lecture by one of the pioneers of conotoxin research.  He had isolated several of the peptides found in cone snail venom and was investigating their use in the medical field.  He had even started a company based on his research.  I was intrigued and took the opportunity to apply for an internship at the company.

I was called in for an interview and everything went very smoothly.  I had a chance to hear more about the research and take a tour of the state-of-the-art laboratories.  Afterward they sat down with me and offered me the internship, but with one condition – that I finish my undergraduate degree, but not pursue a Masters degree or Ph.D.  I was extremely tempted.  After all, the work looked interesting, the internship paid well and I was told that I would be guaranteed a position after graduation.

The only problem was that after my wife and I prayed about it, we felt that I needed to further my education.  My goal had always been to work in a research lab, so it was hard to turn down what seemed to be a golden opportunity.  But I knew that I needed to keep going to school.

It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my Ph.D and had the opportunity to teach at a small college that I realized why I had felt inspired to continue my education.  Teaching was truly the career I needed and it would not have been possible without an advanced degree.  The internship offer had been much like the cone snail itself.  Just as the cone snail’s shell tempts one to pick it up, the offer seemed so wonderful and ideal, but if I had taken hold of it I know that I would have been paralyzed in a job that wasn’t what my family and I truly needed.

It’s so easy to give up what we need in the long run for what we want right now.

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