Sunday, March 27, 2011

Size-based competition in threespine stickleback

In the above video, I talk about two things:

1.) Why threespine stickleback are used at Clark to study evolution and adaptive radiation.

2.) The group research project I'm doing for my Animal Behavior class.

In addition to my lab studies at Clark, because I'm still an undergraduate, I have to take "real" classes. I've come to realize that at times I find classes a real burden because they prevent me from doing my lab work, but they'll be over in a few weeks. Animal Behavior for the most part has so far been a seminar-style course, in which student groups select a group of papers to represent specific topics relating to ethology, the study of animal behavior. As a result, I've over 25 peer-reviewed articles so far in the semester. This may not seem like much to some, but it is at the level we have to understand and discuss them.

Animal Behavior, like #2 up there suggests, also has a research component to the class. I mentioned before the research project I'm working on. This project is explained in more detail in the video.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Update on my life. LOL JK: UPDATE ON SCIENCE.

I've been working on a few YouTube projects here and there and I've finally put the time into making a video... to share them with you? Yeah, a video to share other videos with you. So here it is, and be sure to check back for more biology videos soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Everybody's working for the weekend? Nope, I'm working through the weekend.

This is what my desktop looks like. It's too crazy for my laptop, so I have to do it on my 21" iMac. Sometimes I wish I had gotten the 27" iMac, but the one I have doesn't really fit on my college desk as it is.

Been putting in a lot of hours on my presentation of a paper for Topics in Marine Biology. I've been juggling this project with a mini presentation in Animal Behavior in addition to some reading. Before tonight is over, I will have re-edited a paper for Animal Behavior, worked more on my mini presentation, adjusted and added content to my Topics presentation, and perhaps worked on my longer Animal Behavior presentation that's for later in the week.

...oh, and I have to do more work for Topics later in the week, which includes more reading and a critical review of a journal article. All in all, my week is going to be very hectic, but I hope to get some fun work in at the end of the week. It's probably safe to say I will not be enjoying my first legal St. Patrick's Day. To be fair, I've never been a big drinker nor celebrator of St. Patty's day. Maybe I'll split a 6-pack of Guinness with my mate down the hall while we study. Responsible and social drinking for the win! :-D

...but now back to the library! Ta for now maties!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring Break -> no classes -> I can update once again

Classes have been killing me.

I haven't been this busy in a long time. It seems like every week is finals week! I haven't been able to catch a break until this week, which is Spring Break. *catches breath* I don't even know where to start because I haven't done a YouTube video in a month or a real post here in weeks.

Well okay, so this week is spring break which is really nice. How am I spending my week off? Well, my friend Jesse from Pennsylvania is coming up to visit for a few days. I'm wicked stoked he's visiting. He's one of my best friends, and I met him in Australia. Jesse and I were in the same study abroad program in Perth, which I've chronicled in my study abroad blog. Besides his visit, it's catch up time for me. Hopefully I can get a head start on the remainder of the semester, which will be nonstop until May 10th or so. Oh boy. Can you tell I'm excited!?

This will be a long post for sure, so please bear with me.

Directed study

Over the past few weeks, I've been doing culture practice. Because we will be transforming diatoms on plates (to the right), we need to be determine a protocol for growing diatoms on the plates and transferring them to "native" liquid culture. (The top picture are the plates with a poorly drawn circle within which I plated the diatoms [below]. I had to centrifuge down 40mL of culture for each plate, something like a hundred million cells per plate.) I need a little more practice plating the diatoms in the circle outline, and this will ensure maximum efficiency once we do the actual transformation.

In order to plate the cells, I have to count them like I mentioned before. I can then plate a known estimate of cells, and determine what works best. Once I plated the cells and determined how long they took to grow and how few cells I could plate in order to see cultures grow, I needed to transfer them back into liquid culture. This is just like how I grow bacteria on plates and transfer them into liquid culture. But, because the liquid culture for diatoms are much larger than bacteria cultures I use, we need to start the diatoms off in a very small amount, like a few mL. To do this, I took a wire loop and removed a single colony (several hundred cells) and placed it in a 1.5-3.0mL seawater well, on a 6 well plate, which you can see on the middle right in the picture below.

After a few days when I got visible growth, I transferred them into a 5 or 10mL culture, seen in the test tubes. By making larger and larger cultures, we can make sure cells are growing well. If we put our initial cells in a half liter flask, it would take up to a week or two to discern whether we got growth or not. But by growing them in small volumes, we can make sure we're doing okay sooner. (In this picture here you can see my four different diatom culture stages: the plated colonies, bottom left; the test tube 5 and 10mL colonies, top left; the 6 well plate containing 1.5 and 3mL colonies, top right; and the trial transformation plates on the bottom right.)

After break, my professor and I hope to travel down to Rhode Island and transform my diatoms. I can't wait to finally move forward with this project! I'm hoping my post-transformation project will really speed up and I can start collecting data and maybe publish something!

Last but not least,  I was finally accepted into the 5th year biology program, which is really exciting! while I had little doubt I would be accepted, getting the official letter was pretty cool and relaxed me a bit. I got my letter last week, months after other 5th year programs decided whether students could continue their projects or not.

Animal Behavior

A side from reading what I consider to be a lot of papers on different aspects of animal behavior, we're slowly starting to begin our research projects. We have half a semester to collect as much data as possible, write a sophisticated lab report/research paper, and create a lengthy presentation and poster. Something tells me it's going to be an incredible crunch, which is why I'm so eager to get as much studying done as possible this week.

Something I drew on a whiteboard during class...
My research project along with a few friends is to investigate foraging competition among threespine stickleback juveniles, which we call fry. The biggest lab on campus uses threespine stickleback for an array of studies, mostly concerned with evolution and adaptive radiation. But yeah, our project. We're looking into whether body size affects how well stickleback fry can compete for food. In ponds and lakes with limited food sources, competition is likely to be high and we're curious if size is an advantage.

To look at this, we'll be feeding pairs stickleback fry limited amounts of bloodworms, and record their competitions. We do this by pipetting bloodworms into a small tank, and videotaping the fish activity. We can then go back and watch their interactions and analyze it.
However, in order to get them to be competitive, we have to make sure they're hungry... so we don't feed them for half a day before testing.