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Showing posts from 2023

Textile art

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Johanna's photo: high-tech crafting When I arrived at work this morning, my postdoc, Johanna, pulled up a photo on her phone to show me. Proudly, she held the screen up to my face and then started giggling. The photo was taken in WHOI's AVAST facility - a high-tech work space on WHOI's campus. AVAST stands for Autonomous Vehicles And Sensor Technologies, but the facility is meant to be a collaboration hub for all kinds of research and technology development. It's a very 21st-century, open-concept, community-use work space outfitted with 3D printers and test tanks. The high ceiling and garage-style doors let robotic undersea vehicles come in and out. There are several vehicles being worked on at AVAST right now - a mid-water vehicle that follows fishes and collects their DNA, a full-ocean-depth vehicle with sensors that can handle the pressure at 11,000 m deep, even a titanium sphere that I think belongs to the submersible Alvin . AVAST is by every measure a technologica

In the cracks

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"There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in" - "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen Friends, we are approaching the end of a calendar year, and I find myself feeling pressed. In many ways, the change of a calendar year is arbitrary, but I definitely have some projects that I don't want to carry over into another annum. The Porites spawning paper has finally been submitted. The zooplankton samples Sarah had been working on are done . Yet, I find myself spinning around, looking for something else I can accomplish before the year ends. I have to fill in the cracks between major projects with minor victories.  This electrophoresis gel shows my minor victory. On the left  side is a DNA ladder. Every band across the middle of the  gel represents a successful a DNA section that I will be able  to sequence. As you can see, I was very successful! Yesterday, I had a minor victory. In this gap between large datasets, I turned my attention to some mysterious A

And the Emmy goes to...

Friends, you might remember that the episode of Changing Seas that Kharis and I were featured in was nominated for a Suncoast Regional Emmy . The award ceremony took place this past weekend, and I'm proud to announce that our episode won! I am incredibly proud of our PBS partners and honored to be part of their award-winning work. You can watch Alexa Elliott and Jacquelyn Hurtado accept the award below.  If you haven't seen "Life in the dark: the polar night," check it out here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAS0osFsneI

Milestone passed!

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Friends, we had an exciting day in the lab this week. After 3 months of solid work, sorting animals day in and day out, and countless hours sitting at a microscope, Sarah finished a dataset!  Sarah and I tracked her progress on the white  board, and we were both clearly excited to  update it when all sorting was finished! Photo by Johanna Weston.  You might remember that my lab is collaborating on a study with the Palau International Coral Reef Center. Our goal is characterize the biodiversity of zooplankton in Palau National Marine Sanctuary. PICRC staff collected net tow samples in 2022, I brought them to WHOI last spring, and poor Sarah has been analyzing them ever since.  There are so many species. Seriously. So. Many. Species. It's kind of funny that there's another zooplankton project happening in the lab at the same time - Kharis is working on a set of samples from the high Arctic. It feels a bit like we've undertaken a case study in latitudinal clines in biodivers

New kid on the block

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"I'm a new kid on the block Though I may not be Johann Sebastian Bach" - "New Kid (on the Block)" by BNL Whenever a new person sits down at a microscope in the lab, it takes a few minutes for them to get oriented. They have to learn to adjust the eyepieces to fit the width of their face. They take a minute to find the focus knob, then scroll up and down until the specimen comes into clear view. It's a process.  Some pteropod larvae (baby snails) in the sample I showed H.  I have a new high schooler in the lab, H, thanks to a mentoring program at a local high school. The mentorship in my lab is the first time he's been exposed to tiny animals like larvae, but he's very eager to learn. I showed him how to use the microscope, adjust the eyepieces, change focus, and make himself comfortable. I stood back. "What do you see?" I asked. At this point in the process, the student usually mentions something about copepods. They won't know what the

The spawning paper

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Man, it's hard to believe a few weeks have already gone by. As the adage goes, time flies when you're having fun. In this case, it seems I lost track of time while...well, having fun.  My favorite part of my job is writing. In fact, I wish I had known back in college how much of my time I would spend writing as a scientist. It is so indescribably satisfying to take a set of data, condense it down into a few clear patterns, and then fill pages with words to tell the world what you've found.  Newly settled Porites lobata corals. The past few weeks, I've been writing about a coral. You know it well - Porites lobata , the species my team has worked on in Palau since 2018. Over the past two years, we figured out  when  P. lobata  spawns , got colonies to spawn in the lab in Palau, reared the larvae , and even  settled them on tiles . Along the way, we made really important observations - what cues make the adults spawn, what size the eggs are, how quickly the larvae deve

Circle, circle, barnacle

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Earlier this fall, I received a very exciting email. A local high school student who had worked with my lab last year wondered if I would mentor him through his science fair project again. I immediately answered yes! My lab has a lot going on right now, so there were plenty of options to choose from. The student, Erik, is very interested in biofouling, so I decided to entrust him with a dataset from the high Arctic. As some of you might remember, Kharis successfully recovered CATAIN from its spot at 79 N last August. The camera yielded fantastic image data showing settlement and post-settlement mortality in a fouling community over 8 months. It's an incredible dataset with really exciting, novel information hidden within.  Kharis and Erik working together on CATAIN images. In order to go from images to numbers to understanding, someone has to sit down and circle all the barnacles. That's right - our images are chock full of barnacles . Beyond just counts, we can use a specia

By perseverance

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"By perseverance, the snail reached the Ark."  - Charles Spurgeon Leading a research lab is like trying to write a book in a tornado. Every day, I sit at my desk and put text on paper, hoping my words will compel a federal agency or a private foundation to grant us the money we need to keep going. Or I deal with finances, correspondence, and standardized forms - the hum-drum paperwork that for some reason the world requires. If I'm lucky, I get to write a paper reporting our scientific results.  Meanwhile, my lab is a flurry of activity. An incessant clicking from the far corner indicates my technician, Sarah, is busy counting zooplankton. My postdoc, Johanna, paces around the molecular biology bench as she extracts and amplifies DNA from tiny larvae. New boxes of samples showed up in the freezer last night, indicating my PhD student, Kharis, is finally home from her own whirlwind research trip in the high Arctic . Multiple times per day, someone sticks their head into

The nomination

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Friends, I have some very exciting news to share today. "Life in the dark: the polar night" has been nominated for a Suncoast Regional Emmy award!  In January 2023, my grad student, Kharis, and I were joined in the field by a film crew from South Florida PBS. The producer, Alexa Elliott, wanted to share the story of our high Arctic research as part of the series Changing Seas . Our episode premiered on TV and online in June. You can watch it anytime on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAS0osFsneI It is incredibly exciting for an episode featuring my lab's research to be nominated for this award. If you check the list of nominees, you'll notice that another Changing Seas episode was also nominated! Alexa and her production team do incredible work, and I am glad to see them receive much-deserved recognition.  The Suncoast Regional Emmy Awards event is on December 2. It is an honor to be nominated, but I also hope the Changing Seas team walks away with at lea

Name that fungus!

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The mysterious specimen Back in 2021, Kharis and I took a deep-sea plankton pump to the Arctic. The pump was installed on a lander by my German collaborators at the Alfred Wegener Institute and sent down to the deep. From 2.5 km away, Kharis and I wished and hoped for good samples, sending good vibes to the pump whenever we could. We got some incredible specimens .  Of all the beautiful larvae we collected that trip, one stood out to me. I pulled it from the watery sample, not knowing what it was. It kind of resembled an egg. Maybe it was an elusive deep-sea larva, I thought, but I wasn't sure what kind. We found 20 of them - sparkly blue orbs with gold flecks. A few of them were housed inside a loose mesh of spikes. My invertebrate-seeking mind concluded that the spikes must be sponge spicules, and we had found the first sponge larvae from the Arctic deep sea. You can imagine my excitement when, months later, Kharis got a successful sequence from one of the mystery orbs. Here w

Magellan

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"The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore."  - Ferdinand Magellan In grad school, one of my friends used to say that he was a professional reader. At the time, he was working on a review paper that would constitute the introduction to his thesis, so he wasn't entirely wrong. I think he read a few hundred papers that year. He had to be deeply familiar with his field in order to craft the review.  Atlantic sea scallop, Placopecten magellanicus . Can you see the growth rings? Science involves not just the search for knowledge but a familiarity with all previous knowledge. Right now, I find myself in a phase that could very well be described as "professional reading." I've read some 50 papers about sea scallops in the last week. My eyes are getting tired.  Why am I busy ingesting scallop facts, you ask? There's a good reason, trust me. One of my colleagues at WHOI recently invited me

Name that zoea!

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Friends, it has been a productive few weeks over in my corner of the world. I'm busy at the microscope, sorting and identifying zooplankton from the Gulf of Mexico. This zoea larva came from one of my plankton samples. Check out that spike! Long spines and spikes help protect plankton from predators.  Last summer, I was part of a team investigating shipwrecks and natural hard-bottom reefs in the mesophotic zone, between 50 and 200 m deep. Recently, I've waded my way through all the ROV video we collected and found magnificent species of fish and corals along the way. The next step is to analyze plankton samples  I collected when we were at sea.  I wasn't quite sure what would be in the plankton samples or what they would show. I've been curious for a while about how animals disperse to shipwrecks as larvae, so I thought that plankton samples collected from the water column right above shipwrecks might offer some clues.  Take a guess: Am I finding larvae of the cora

Name that coral!

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I am back at it - analyzing all the video footage my team collected from the Gulf of Mexico last summer. I finished the fish already , so now I feel more at home: I am identifying the invertebrates .  This frame grab from our mystery shipwreck  shows cup corals ( Tubastrea coccinea ) and sea rods ( Diodogorgia nodulifera ) . Many of the engineers at WHOI subscribe to a 3-part taxonomic system. Having little knowledge of the living creatures in the wide, watery world, the engineers classify objects they observe in the ocean into three categories. An object is either a rock, a shark, or snot. That's right - all inanimate objects are termed "rocks," all swimming animals are called "sharks," and the rest gets described as "snot." I didn't say it was a good system, mind you.  I suppose under the rock-shark-snot worldview, all the sessile invertebrates that I love so much fall into the "snot" category. To be fair, they are a bit slimy someti

CATAIN lives!

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It's always a good day when I open my email to a message from the field . Kharis is in Svalbard right now, so I've been watching my email for updates. She's sent me periodic communications about sample collection, sorting larvae, and life at the research station. Aside from the normal ups-and-downs of field work, everything is going pretty well. Except for one thing: CATAIN.  CATAIN being lifted out of the fjord by R/V  Teisten . Photo by Kharis Schrage. We deployed CATAIN on the seafloor in Kongsfjorden last January, and Kharis was tasked with recovering it this trip. She learned how t o operate our lab's ROV  for the recovery operation. She flew all the way up to Ny-Ă…lesund, Svalbard. She went out on the Kings Bay research boat, Teis ten . And...no dice. Kongsfjorden is very different in the summer compared to the winter. In the winter, the water is crystal clear, even if it is dark out all day. In the summer, though, the glaciers release turbid water into the fjor

Name that fish!

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A frame grab from my Gulf of Mexico video. Can you name the different fish? If science was a game show, it would take place in Japan. Japanese game shows are ridiculous - you know what I'm talking about. Contestants have to hold an orange between their chin and their chest and transfer it to another contestant, all while standing on a wobbly rotating platform. Or they slide through a tunnel of slime while a fan blows glitter on their faces to reach the prize: a golden banana. The combinations of elements don't even make sense, but the audiences are always super invested in the contestants' success. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just do an online search for Takeshi's Castle . I don't (usually) have a live audience when I'm science-ing, but it can feel like a ridiculous challenge nonetheless. The game show I'm playing this week is called  Name that Fish! I'm going through all the video we recorded using a remotely-operated vehicle from

CATAIN 2.0

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Back when Kharis started her PhD, we came up with a grand plan: deploy CATAIN s at three locations in an Arctic fjord. One site would be near the glacier at the head of the fjord; one site would be in the middle of the fjord next to the research station; and one would be at the fjord mouth, exposed to the open ocean. That way, we could tell how settlement and post-settlement mortality patterns varied across a gradient of glacial influence.  Kharis building CATAIN's computer system - we had to  stack a Sleepy Pi on a Raspberry Pi. Here's the problem: we only have one CATAIN. I always intended the settlement camera to be a research tool I could duplicate - in an ideal world, I would have 100 CATAINs deployed all over the world - but I was left with the question of how to build more. It's been a challenge. The first barrier to scientific progress is always, always funding, so Kharis and I set about writing grant proposals and scraping together money to buy all the necessary c

The smear

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My electrophoresis gel This image represents progress.  Recently, I've been trying to develop a quick and easy way to identify cryptic lineages of the coral Porites lobata.  For the past few years, my team has researched Porites  in Palau . We discovered that the corals living inside semi-enclosed lagoons have higher thermal tolerance than corals living outside the lagoons, and they're actually genetically distinct . Two of the genetic groups - we call them lineages - have higher thermal tolerance and are more common inside the lagoons.  Every time we collect samples and want to sort the corals by lineage, it's an elaborate process. There are DNA extractions , then clean-up steps, then dilutions, then library prep, then sequencing, then bioinformatics - the whole thing takes months. Sure, the cost of sequencing has come down in recent years, but there's still a lot of time investment for genomic analysis. When you have a few hundred samples to weed through and just need

The schoolhouse

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Just around the corner from my lab, on the appropriately-named School Street, is a large schoolhouse. It's home to a daycare co-op during the school year, but in summer, it hosts a local tradition: the Children's School of Science. You can always tell when CSS is in session because you see middle-schoolers walking around town in large groups, carrying plankton nets and buckets or snorkels and fins. Teachers lead the curious students to local habitats and expose them to marine animals. The whole town turns into one giant summer camp. Belly Biology with the Children's School of Science. Photo by Olivia Rauss. This year, a CSS teacher reached out to me to ask if her students could see my lab. She was just a few days too late to catch the live-animal experiments  that took place in my lab this summer, so I suggested we go outdoors instead. Kharis and Johanna were available to help out, so we split the group of 14 into two smaller groups of 7 - half on the dock, half in the lab.

Team Porites online

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It's not every day that I pop out of bed and make it to work before 8 am, but yesterday, I was super motivated. I had an 8 am meeting with Team Porites .  "Hang on, let me get a picture!" - Sarah Davies That's right, we got all of us online at the same time! It was 8 am in Massachusetts, 2 pm in Europe, and 9 pm in Palau - the only time that all of us could be reasonably expected to be awake and mentally functional. I'm so glad we were able to make it work.  Since parting ways in Palau at the end of May , each member of the team has been working on their own set of samples and data. Matthew shared updates on the paper he's writing about spawning in Porites lobata , and I was super excited to hear about his progress. "The spawning paper," as we've started calling it, reports our observations of P. lobata spawning in Palau, describes the larval development , and lays the foundation for future studies on this common species. We even decided to inc

The nuptial dance of the nereids: part 2

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Jeff and Michal hard at work in my lab,  preparing worms for an experiment.  It is a hot, rainy July in Woods Hole, and my lab is buzzing. My postdoc, Johanna, is running PCRs on deep-sea amphipods. My PhD student, Kharis, is sorting animals from Arctic sediment samples under the microscope. And my visitors, Jeff and Michal, are exclaiming over worms in a dish.  That's right, my worm-obsessed summer guests are back in Woods Hole! Jeff wrote to me earlier this year to ask if it was ok for him and his wife to use my lab again for a week while they ran experiments on spawning polychaete worms. They were such excellent guests, I was happy to host them again.  Jeff's target species is  Nereis succinea,  a wiggly segmented worm that swims to the surface on dark nights around the new moon. The females spin in circles while releasing pheromones, and the males are stimulated by the pheromones to spawn. It's super fascinating to watch - the response is nearly instantaneous. Normall

Quahogs

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"We should do a lab dinner sometime this summer," Johanna suggested. That's how the conversation started back in late May. I loved the idea. Some of my favorite memories as a student were dinners with my research group. Honestly, work sessions that blended into dinners at Andrew Sweetman's house in Norway are what made me into the scientist that I am.  Meyer-Kaiser lab clamming 2023. Photo by Andrew Corso. The plan for a summer lab dinner gradually morphed and grew. We decided to include our partners. Then Kharis suggested we could forage some of our ingredients. The after-work dinner turned into a mid-afternoon clam hunt followed by homemade clam chowder at my house.  We left work about 3 and parked at Kharis's house. From there, we walked the few minutes to Main Street and took in the summer arts and crafts fair - may as well enjoy the atmosphere while we can. Then 5 of us piled into Kharis's car, surrounded by buckets and rakes. We drove out to a spot in

ROV Lobstermoose: part 2

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"Hey look, I match the ROV!" - Kharis Schrage It was a sunny summer day in Woods Hole. Tourists sauntered along Water Street, crowding the sidewalk and shops. Small, lazy waves lapped against the seawall in Eel Pond. The air smelled of algae and shellfish.  In the midst of this idyllic scene, two scientists squatted on wooden beams on the edge of Eel Pond. One of them opened a heavy black case and began plugging cords into their respective ports. The other slowly lowered a lime-green robot into the sea. With the twist of a joystick, ROV Lobstermoose descended and zoomed away. The lime-green shell was still visible a meter below the murky surface. The two scientists called back and forth as they tested the vehicle's steering and got to know how it moved. It may have looked like aquatic playtime, but the scientists were training for a research mission in the far north.  Friends, I am super excited that my little ROV (named Lobstermoose after my friend's dog ) is heade