Welcome to our week 6 posts! It has been yet another jam packed week. I have been bouncing around from lab to lab a little more than usual, to borrow tools, collect microscope photos and to work through histology.
This week I collected a bit more data. Both of my experiments change little by little as I come across small holes in my design. In my opinion, this is a part of experimental design and filling in the small holes is not only strengthening my understanding but also improving my project.
As I briefly mentioned last week, I am interested in the microscopic structure of the tissues within the cerata of Opalescent nudibranchs. Which is why I am doing histological analysis on the cerata. Each day this week I transferred the cerata through a series of solutions for a set amount of time (generally about a day). Yesterday I embedded each cerata in a wax mold, that I soon will slice into extremely small slices to mount on a slide.
While experimenting with the feeding of nudibranch agar pellets to juvenile crabs, I’ve noticed a trend in the consumption of the pellets. All of the 18 crabs start grabbing for the pellet as I place it in the water, and pick at it for a minute or so. Some of the crabs scarfed it down and others nibbled and then left it alone. In attempting to record the crabs desire to eat the pellets, I’ve found that measuring the amount they consume is quite difficult. I’ve starting weighing out each pellet before it’s been in water and after 5 minutes in the water. The absorption of water and the torn up pieces are two areas of my design that I am currently working on.
The Spontaneous adventures this week were some of my favorites! The Coquille River waterfall last Saturday was amazing. Swimming, climbing and falling asleep in the sunshine was a great way to end a lab filled week. Even the two hour drive to and from the trail was gorgeous. On Wednesday I joined my lab partner Elena C. for a nice drive north to do some algae density sampling.
This weekend 4 other REU’s and I drove up to Nike headquarters in Beaverton Oregon after spending the morning at the Marine Hatfield Science Center in Newport. We all ran the 5k and ended the night at a lovely brewery close by Beaverton. No one I’d rather be “stuck” in a car with for 8+ hours! Yet another incredible week with wonderful people.
I fall deeper and deeper in love with this place and these people each week. Some of the highlights of week 5 were beach hoping and camping over the weekend, finding black turban snails (Tegula funebralis) and thinking they were some of the most beautiful snails I’d ever seen, and expanding the methods for my research.
Over the weekend I drove north of Charleston to the John Dellenback Sand Dunes, which were absolutely gorgeous. We hiked a few miles across the dunes to a secluded beach, where pieces of sand dollars were strewn for at least a mile, and where the sandy beach went so far left and right that I couldn’t see the ends. I also drove an hour and a half south of Charleston and stopped at countless beaches along the way. Again I was in awe with the diversity of the shores as well as the vibrantly colored wild flowers.
At one of the beaches I explored, I observed the assistance of black turban snails in “helping” one another flip back over if they were upside down. When I showed the video of what I saw to the other interns they all were shocked and ecstatic to see that these snails might be intentionally helping one another. This could be a coincidence or it could be altruistic.
In attempting my planned methods for my research; creating agar pellets and using MgCl to knock out the opalescent nudibranchs. I quickly realized that many experimental designs don’t go as planned. Ideally the agar pellets are going to test for chemical presences in the nudibranchs. By offering the juvenile crabs opalescent based pellets, I hope to see a trend in the consumption or lack of consumption of the pellets.
The second method i had planned to use was anesthetizing opalescent nudibranchs by placing them in diluted MgCl solution. Ideally this anesthetic would inhibit the nudibranchs use of muscles, and therefore the firing of stinging cells contained within their cerata. Anesthetizing has proved to be more difficult that I originally had thought since these delicate soft bodied animals seem to fall apart at the touch of a spoon when soaked in diluted MgCl.
Both of these methods are a work in progress, and a lot of fun to explore! Dr. Craig Young, OIMB Director and REU mentor, lent me a mortar and pestle which will help me with making my opalescent food pellets. He has offered his tools and interns (Kaitlyn B. and Nicole W.) to teach me the process of histology. I’m really looking forward to learning this new skill and taking a closer look at the cerata of Opalescent nudibranchs.
I had many conversations this week with mentors and peers that have opened up my mind to the many options I have to explore and better grasp how Opalescent nudibranchs defend themselves from one possible predator being juvenile crabs. This week ended with a fascinating and inspiring Dissertation presentation by Nicole Moss. She defended her Masters thesis which explored regeneration in Pilidium larvae, which are extremely tiny and nearly transparent babies of the ribbon worm Maculaura alaskensis. As daunting as the weekly seminars and periodic dissertations are, I leave feeling empowered and excited to be delving into the study of marine biology.
The way that my chemistry professor explained the scientific method is what I have held onto until now. As I was in the lab running through experiments, all of the sudden I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. The scientific method is one that we all use everyday, but it also is at the heart of science. As simple as this method is, when it comes to science, it gets a whole lot more complicated. In the first few weeks at OIMB I found that I had (and still have) endless questions. The questions are the easy part. Its figuring out how to answer those questions through experimental research that has been so hard to wrap my head around. I gained a new perspective on the scientific method by struggling through it and letting go of my expectations.
This weekend I’m off to new beaches and mountains for some much needed camping! I may even swim around in the ocean, thanks to a friend who brought me a wet suit.
Week three flew by too quickly. Starting the week with a boat trip. Although we all have gotten out to the tide pools countless times, most of us are unfamiliar with the local organisms found on the sea floor. We found tons of creatures using a dredge which is a device designed to be dragged along the bed of a body of water for collection of objects. Some of my favorite finds were the sea cucumber, sand dollars, a small octopus, a few sea stars, and three tiny sea slugs!
I spent half of the boat trip with my eyes on the horizon, attempting to distract myself from feeling sea sick. I’ve been told that most people can acclimate, so I’ve got my fingers crosses that my body will accept boat trips in time. I was on the look out for whales though, and had friends who sang to distract our minds and brought us saltine crackers. All in all it was a lot of fun!
As far as my research project goes, each day holds something new! Taking care of my Opalescent nudibranchs has been a learning experience in and of itself. Right now I have only a handful that are isolated in their own container, and the rest are sharing a space with at least one other of their kind. I’ve watched them take bites out of each other, lose over half of their cerata in a day (the dorsal outgrowths on their backs), completely disappear due to a hungry roommate, and even be attacked while trying to lay egg ribbons.
One goal of mine has been to solidify and collect evidence of the interactions between the juvenile Dungeness crabs and the Opalescent nudibranchs that I have observed so far. Alan has been helpful in reminding me to document even the small experiments I set up. In order to successfully develop a scientific research project, the data is essential in order to conclude anything at the end of an experiment.
The defensive adaptations of the Opalescent nudibranch are well studied, so my previous question has taken another turn. After rerunning previous experiments, I noticed that the behavior of the juvenile Dungeness crabs had changed. In the 8 isolated encounters I observed between a nudibranch and a crab, the crab froze and didn’t show interest in the pieces of mussel, which these crabs usually love to eat. Instead the nudibranch ended up consuming the mussel in all of my observed experiments.
This made me wonder how the presence of Hermissenda crassicornis (Opalescent nudibranch) affects a juvenile Dungeness crabs desire to eat. I’ve been working on the experimental design, in order to minimize the variables within my experiment, and make sure that I will be able to collect sufficient data over the next several weeks. I have a feeling that this coming week will be packed full of experimental set up. That’s about it for this week, come back next Monday for an update on my project!
I’ve made a lot of progress on the development of my research project since last week! More specifically, I’ve decided that I absolutely must focus my research on a stunningly beautiful marine organisms, nudibranchs/sea slugs. Which, continue to amaze me with each passing day.
Before arriving to OIMB, I knew that they were often colorful, soft bodied, slow moving, and unbelievably gorgeous marine organisms in the phylum Mollusca. With the help of a number of OIMB faculty, many identification books, and several scientific papers, my understanding of nudibranchs has expanded immensely.
Interestingly enough there is a bridge between the project idea I shared from last week and my new project. It was by observing two species of nudibranchs in a tank full of starved juvenile crabs that my new interest arose.
Alan has placed great emphasis on the power of simply exploring and observation, rather than trying to begin by forcefully think something to death. Being in Alans’ lab has already proved to be a good learning experience for me. Simply from watching organisms in their natural habitat or even in the tanks in the lab, I’ve found that coming with questions comes rather naturally.
Nudibranchs are in the phylum Mollusca, which generally have shells. Snails, Octopuses and clams are three examples of the many organisms in this phylum. Most nudibranchs have dorsal outgrowths called cerata, and some nudibranchs have the ability to sequester stinging cells called cnidocytes from their cnidarian prey, and shunt the immature cnidocytes to the ends of their cerata where they can be used as a defensive tactic to deter their predators. This known fact absolutely blew my mind! Its just one example of the diversity and creativity in nature.
For the nudibranchs that are able to sequester stinging cells from their prey, how essential is this defensive adaptation to the individual and would the lack of the those cells risk them their lives? Or will their other defensive adaptations be sufficient enough to fight off predators?
The last couple of days I’ve been playing around with container sizes and materials in order to separate each nudibranch I’ve collected into their own secluded container. By next week I hope to confirm their food items, and begin looking at each of their cerata under a compound microscope so that I can more easily identify the density of the cnidocytes, as well as an idea of the amount of cnidocytes that they are able to sequester from a controlled portion of food.
Many people will say that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself into a community where that language is spoken. I’ve been at OIMB less than a week and already the amount of ideas, techniques, and information I’ve absorbed has exceeded my expectations, as though I am learning a new language to better grasp and comprehend science.