Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Born in the dark

"I was born in the dark
But it wasn't last night"
- "Born in the dark" by Doug Stone

"Oh, it's just her!" Nicole called in relief, opening the door wide for me. I stepped inside WHOI's Shore Lab to find the two interns hard at work. A cart filled with computer equipment and note sheets stood in the wide entrance hall. Thick cords ran from the cart through a low opening in the wall into the cold room. As I examined the scene, Meghan emerged from the cold room, wearing shorts over her leggings and a headlamp on her head. Dressed for battle, I guess.

Meghan pipetting oyster larvae for a new replicate
Meghan's research this summer is all about oyster larvae behavior. She's building on work that had been done last year and which I am in the process of analyzing. She's looking at swimming behavior of larvae exposed to a chemical settlement cue and also trying to discern the reasons why larvae swim in helices. It's very cool work.

The experimental set-up at WHOI's Shore Lab
When it was time for a new replicate, Meghan proudly showed me her experimental set-up in the cold room. The climate-controlled room was a uniform temperature and completely dark except for Meghan's headlamp (larvae respond to directional light cues, so you have to exclude as much light as possible). A 50mL flask with a specific concentration of the chemical settlement cue sat on a small table, surrounded by cameras and lights and a vice to hold a pipet. Carefully, Meghan sucked up a pre-set number of oyster larvae into the pipet and held it over the flask. "Run!" she shouted, "Record!"

Outside in the hall, Nicole responded to Meghan's commands by starting the camera's recording software. By the time Meghan and I re-emerged from the cold room, there were tiny black dots swimming up and down on the screen - larvae.

Nicole manning the computer station at Shore Lab
I was impressed to see how well the two interns were handling the experiments. Larval biology is difficult because your study organisms are young and small and sensitive. Experiments have to be run when larvae are exactly the right age, so you have to act quickly. In Meghan's case, she needed larvae that were competent to settle, about 2 weeks old, and once they were competent, all experiments had to take place within 24 hours. Thankfully, she got everything prepared a week in advance and asked Nicole to help, so once the call came that the larvae were ready, everything ran smoothly.

I'm excited to see Meghan's data once all the experiments are finished! There should be very cool results!


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