A Chiton chronicle
Wow. What a couple of weeks! It is astounding how much can be learned and experienced in so little time.
It is very cool to see everyone immerse themselves in their questions, and find ways to investigate them. There is so much growth and excitement in this process, and it has been a privilege to be a part of it. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many starry-eyed, kind hearted, intelligent young scientists, so many inspired veterans to the field.
I am perpetually amazed by how quickly we can adapt to entirely new (for us) ways of thinking about and understanding the world; how quickly I take on the perspective of that baby chiton, or that seaweed, or evolutionary time.
As a big, clumsy vertebrate with a limited sense of time (and physics, and a bunch of other stuff), it takes some work to really appreciate how tiny marine organisms experience their world and function within it. In the larger contexts of evolution and development, it is challenging to consider the forces and mechanisms by which structures appear or disappear from different groups of animals or in the course of the development of an individual.
But I’m trying.
Richard always says we know a lot more about structure than we do about function, and I am feeling that this week. Especially because I know so little about structure.
I am investigating a structure which appears early on in the development of chitons that has not been well studied. I want to know what it is, and what it’s doing in the animal. We know from the way it behaves under polarized light that it is some kind of crystal, probably lots of little ones, but what is it made out of? How is it organized? How long does it persist in the animal? And of course: What is its function?
It might be some component of a gravity sensing organ, it might be a product of the excretory system, it might be both of these things, it might be neither. What’s cool about thinking about this is nobody knows what the answer is. To try to figure this structure out I have to take what I know about how the structure appears under the microscope, the period of time in which it persists in the animal, the various organ systems that form or operate in early development, and chitons’ phylogenetic relationship to other molluscs and their structures and development.
For me, this project has two major components: 1) coming up with a series of tests or procedures with a logic that will provide some insight into the structure, and 2) ensuring I have enough study material, in the appropriate stages, to conduct these experiments.
I have taken away a few solid things from these couple of weeks.
Hi readers! My name is Christina Ellison and I am a Marine Biology major in my senior year at the University of Oregon. I was born in southern California, raised in Utah, and have lived, worked, and studied in Salt Lake City, Ojai, New York City and Eugene. I am also a painter, and sometimes a writer and a dancer. Whatever else I may be, I try to be a liver first. I strive to foster a sense of connectedness to the world around me, and to open myself to the wonder that is life, and death, and change, and beauty in all its many forms. I am fascinated by marine life and processes, and by living things in general. I can become interested in most things if given enough background, and as I develop my own understanding and find a way to put myself to work. My work as a student has inspired a deep appreciation for both the diversity and unity of living things, and for the scientific process. I am not only a student to the facts, but to the process by which we come to regard them as such. I think the scientific process is the pure spirit of curiosity with the moral responsibility and the discipline not to get attached to any theory or outcome, or in any case, not to let our hopes, or our biases, interfere with the conclusions we draw from honest work. Ultimately, it is the process that facilitates our understanding of, and thus our relationship to, the world around us. My interests in marine biology remain very broad. I am interested in ecology and organismal biology. I like learning about how bodies work, how they interface with their environments, and how interactions between individuals scale up to inform community structure. I have also recently become interested in the life history of marine organisms.