Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Boy-girl party

If you spend enough time in Craig Young's lab, he's bound to make you spawn something. I define myself as an ecologist, but just by working in the Young lab, I've learned a lot about reproductive and larval biology by osmosis. I've gotten comfortable injecting sea urchins with potassium chloride and mussels with serotonin to make them release gametes. I've grown accustomed to the weird facial expressions one receives when using words like "gonad," "ripe," and "oocyte" as if they were normal. I know how to recognize a fertilization envelope, and I can find a ciliated larva in a slurry of copepods and diatoms like a champ.

Urchin + electrodes = ?
Besides sorting larvae on this cruise, we've been opportunistically trying to spawn deep-sea invertebrates to describe their reproduction. Let me tell you, it's made for some pretty entertaining evenings on the ship.

There was one day that we got fantastic urchin specimens but found ourselves short on potassium chloride. Well, apparently, there are a couple alternative methods to make urchins spawn. One is shaking them and then placing them upside-down in a dish of cold water. Another is giving them a mild electrical shock. We tried both, but neither worked. A few hours and several "mad scientist" acussations later, we were just about ready to give up. Then someone found the potassium chloride.

On another occassion, we found onuphid worms at a cold seep site and decided to spawn them. Our lab was a popular place that day, and we had scientists from other labs crowding around to take pictures. We pushed the worms out of their tubes with a wooden dowel (because blowing them out like straws didn't work), put them in cold sea water, and waited. After just a few minutes, yellow eggs and milky sperm showed up in the bowls. At one point, I had to shove my way through a crowd to pick up a sample of sperm with my pipet, then spun around to find myself 2 inches from someone's face. Note to self: don't poke the human in the eye. We successfully fertilized the eggs in a dish that night, but they've failed to develop since. Nevertheless, when I ran into a technician later, he referred to our lab as having hosted a "boy-girl party." Oh yes, it was a party.
Mussel maternity ward

A new post-doc in our lab, Luciana, has been working on cold seep mussels. She wants to do some experiments with their larvae, so she's been spawning new specimens pretty much every day. That means a lot of mussels, a lot of serotonin, and a lot of larval cultures. We actually had a good laugh when she had to cut a block of white serotonin powder with a razor blade on a mirror. Thankfully, the mussels are responding to the neurotransmitter, so our walk-in refrigerator has turned into a mussel maternity ward.

In a lot of ways, I thrive on our chaotic evenings. We buzz around the lab with pipets and slides and finger bowls full of eggs. We joke about turning down the lights and putting on music to get our organisms to spawn. While other groups on board are playing cut-throat Settlers of Catan, we're working together to create a new generation of deep-sea invertebrates and understand how they develop. It's busy and creative and frustrating at times but mostly a lot of fun.

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