Raising baby fish is harder than I thought

When they told me i was going to be raising fish I thought it would have been easy. I had some goldfish for a couple months and they practically raised their selves but this was something completely different. First off, larvae fish are extremely sensitive so water temperature, and the amount of air they are receiving must be checked and regulated daily. If they are then lucky to make it to three days after hatching, which for me has been unlikely, then feeding them is another factor. We feed them rotifers that have been enriched with fatty acids and another group we feed them rotifers that have been enriched with fatty acids and probiotics. The rotifers culture can suddenly crash because of a bacterial infection or some unknown factor. Same with the live algae we use for the study. We have not yet gotten them to survive past five days because of either poor egg quality or hard metal in the water. We recent drain the tanks and refilled them again so if anymore more fail water quality can be ruled out. Other than that everything has been great.

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Mid REU Update.

Hey everyone! I can’t believe we’re already halfway through the program and I’m excited for whats next. My project is well underway. So far we have successfully uploaded the sequence data, and used QIIME, a program for microbial ecology, to organize the data. QIIME is run through the terminal app on the computer, so when ever you mess up commands you get error commands, which becomes very disheartening when you spend an entire day trying to do one command. I am now using the program PAST which is used to analyze paleontological data to perform statistical analyses, because the interface is much more forgiving than QIIME. Even though the majority of my work involves me getting frustrated with a computer, the experience is worth it because I will have to lean these skills later.

It’s been a blast getting to know the other REU students, and hanging out in Port A on the weekend. A couple weeks back we went to Six Flags in San Antonio which was super fun because I had never been to either San Antonio or Six Flags. Last weekend, we went on the RV Katy with another group of REU students. While on the Katy we did several field tests that allowed us to get a closer look at marine life. I got to see a baby squid which was really awesome, because I got to look at its chromataphores.

This program has been very interesting so far, and I can t wait for what’s next.

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C1V1 = C2V2 (And other fun stuff too!)

My title is the chemical formula for diluting solutions. Why, you may ask? It’s because I am trying to make myself remember it any way I can, I use it all the time and every day I forget. My mentor must be very tired of repeating it to me!
My project, which is finding a way to separate phytoplankton from every other particle in seawater, has taken some twists and turns. Let’s just say we’re taking the scenic route and we’re walking before we can run. Between cracking the perfects solutions for the gradients, the gradient maker, and plankton tows, our samples weren’t separating as we had predicted. But, we haven’t given up, we attempted many alternatives, like changing the solutions and the gradients; we decided to make steps and even small cushions of different densities, to see what would pass through and what wouldn’t.
Other things we tried were multiple staining, to see our sample clearly, in which we stained a sample with two dyes and our phytoplankton cells emitted fluorescence in one color (blue), while detritus was another. And our last alternative was attempting to use the gradients with cultures (non-wild samples). It helped us to see where common species of the area would be found in the gradient. We are now getting ready to re-test our wild samples with the gradients, with new information about phytoplankton. I’m excited to see our wild samples with fresh eyes!
While it hasn’t been all work and no play, I’ve grown a lot closer to the other REU students; we’re like a little family, there’s no one else I would’ve wanted to have this experience with. We’ve done a lot of fun things, like movie nights, we visited the Texas State Aquarium, go the beach (of course), and we went to Six Flags! That day was amazing! Also, another REU program came to visit from UT Austin (the big campus) and we got to hear a little about their projects studying climate change, in many different approaches, which was very interesting. I met another student from the University of Puerto Rico from the other program, and it meant a lot to me that I could speak Spanish and someone understood me! We had a bonfire on the beach and we went on the RV Katy (boat) and did a plankton tow, mud grab and otter trawls! In which we saw a lot of organisms, like brittle stars, even a squid and a baby shark!
I’m very thankful for this REU program as it gives us a lot of experiences and information, such as seminars and discussions about grad schools and other projects, so we learn a little from everyone! Port Aransas has something special that I’ve grown to really appreciate, as well as the Marine Science Institute. Can’t wait to see what’s in store in the other half of this program!

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Ally’s Adventures on the Aransas River

Hello again! It’s hard to believe that I am already halfway through the program. I’ve gotten to experience so many fun things down here in Texas and the research feels like it is flying by. So far the other REU students and I have gotten to go to lots of awesome restaurants, Six Flags in San Antonio, the Texas State Aquarium, and we got to have a bonfire and go on the RV KATY with the REU students from UT @ Austin last weekend to do some sampling. I absolutely love how much fresh seafood I get to eat here since I’m from Ohio and I don’t get to enjoy it very often. I’m getting pretty close with the other REU students and they’re starting to feel like a family away from home.

My research project seems to be going pretty well. We’ve gone on one official sampling trip on the Aransas River to collect samples for flow cytometry, microscopy, chlorophyll and phycobilin analysis. The trip went great aside from some spiders that took the boat captive on the way to the first sampling site. We also got to see two alligators along the bank, which was awesome because I have never seen them in the wild. We’ve been able to process the first round of samples and we’re working through the data right now. I get to go sampling again next week and I’m excited to see what we find so I can compare the data from both trips. I really enjoy my research and I feel like I have already learned so much this summer.

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I wish I could put all the bird noises I’ve heard into words.

I can’t believe we are half way through the program already! The time here has been going by so fast but I’ve been enjoying every minute of it! The picture above was taken when we all went out to dinner one night with two other girls who are here for the summer in different programs, as well as Yida our REU coordinator! It’s been a blast getting to know them all and we have definitely bonded more than I ever would’ve expected.

Since the last time I posted, a lot has happened. I’ll paint you a word picture.

We finished our proposals which included writing up an overview of our research for the summer: introductions, methods, schedule of work and the underlying questions we were looking at. Mine was centered around a polypeptide known as trileucine. There is so much dissolved organic matter within the ocean and only less than 10% of all of it is actually characterized. Learning more about trileucine and how it cycles through the ocean is beneficial because we can learn which microorganisms control its cycling as well as observe how important it is to the ecosystem. Organic matter gets held in the sediments under the ocean over time and knowing how it cycles through the systems now, we can better predict how they will cycle in the future or discover how they cycled in the past.

So far, I’ve done a bunch of filtering of sea water which if anyone knows, it’s about as fun as watching paint dry. It can take days to filter sea water depending on how much you collect. After the filtering, we performed a process known as SPE (solid phase extraction), which is about as much fun as filtering sea water. The filtering allowed us to separate out the heavier molecular weight dissolved organic matter (DOM) that we didn’t want. Then after we filtered, the SPE allowed us to collect the DOM that we did want and hold it in this cartridge until we were ready to collect it and dissolve it in methanol. I haven’t done any analysis yet of the DOM but that will probably come next week. This week I also started the low-concentration trileucine incubation. Essentially, I collected some more sea water from the ship channel and am letting it sit to see how fast it will degrade. I had to add some stock trileucine to the samples so that way when we analyze it, we can see what’s happening to the trileucine in the water as well as how pure trileucine reacts and degrades. I’ve been taking samples incrementally at 0, 2, 12, 24, 48, 96, & 168 hours. I just finished the 24 hour sample this morning. When I take the samples, I collect 1mL of water from the specificed incubation time, add some formaldehyde to preserve it and stick it in the fridge. Then I filter the rest of the water to separate the DOM and sea water and keep both of those and preserve them in the freezer. I am anxious to actually analyze all these different processes I’m doing!

I got to go on a sampling trip with Kaijun and John (the grad students in Zhanfei’s lab) for their research studies. You’d be surprised how easy and straightforward those things sound in the lab until you actually get out to the field. We sampled from 5 different rivers around the area which was a lot harder than it sounds. Since it doesn’t rain here too often, the rivers are very low and the paths to get to them are very steep and the mud very slick. It was an interesting day for sure!

We had a panel of students/profs come talk to us about grad school which was very informative. I’m really glad the program had this set up for us because there was so much about grad school I still had questions on and things I needed to know for application processes.

This past weekend we got to meet the other REUs that are from UT Austin. It was interesting to get to hear about their research and hang out with them for the weekend. We had a bonfire on the beach which I think is the epitome of island life. We also went out on the boat this weekend with them and got to catch some fish and smaller organisms.









We have various meetings throughout the week to talk about ethics or go to seminars and hear about the research others are doing here at the Institute. Everything is an essential part to the whole and I’m glad for all the experiences so far. I’m excited keep researching and do some analysis of the processes I’ve been doing so far. Stay tuned!




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Progress So Far

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I got to Port Aransas and I still love it the same as since I first arrived. Though some of the bugs can be freaky at times, but that does not take away from the relaxing atmosphere. It has been great getting to know my roommates and the other REU students more. We are all like a little family, we go out to dinner and a bunch of places together like the aquarium. Six Flags, and even a tattoo and piercing shop. I couldn’t ask for better people to experience this adventure into research and travel with!This previous weekend REU students from the environmental department at UT Texas came down to visit. It was nice meeting other students doing similar projects as us. On Friday night we all had a bonfire on the beach, which was super fun. It was a great way to get to know each other better, also they brought stuff for smores; which were uber yummy! The next day we all went out on the schools research vessel RV Katy. On the Katy we preformed a plankton tow, mud grab, and two otter trawls. All three were really cool, in each different marine organisms were observed. We got to see tiny phytoplankton to a baby shark!! Sharks has always been my favorite so it was great being able to catch a wild shark and hold it. Sadly though from being pulled in the trawl net for to long the baby black tip ending up passing away.  I wonder what our next adventure will be.
 The halfway point of the REU has been reached and  my project has been going smoothly only with a few bumps here and there. I have met and spent time with all of my lab mates and they are all really friendly and helpful. Last week Dr. Erisman had a barbecue for everyone in the lab, it was a great way to get to know everyone better outside the work zone. I am finally done practicing aging otoliths and can now move on to age the otoliths from 2017!!! My research question for my project is: how does growth rate change as sheepsheads grow older?  And the hypothesis: As a sheepshead gets older its growth rate will decrease. I have mounted all 230 otoliths have sectioned a little over half of the them, once I’m done sectioning then I will begin aging. Only a few have craked in half when removing them from the wood wedge, but its an easy fix. My main slip up with my project so far was slicing my thumb. When trying to extract a cross-section of a otolith the dissection scalpel slipped out of the wood and got my thumb. I did not really hurt at first, only after I saw a good a mount of blood come out, luckily but no stitches needed! I am still able to section otoliths, no worry can’t wait to start aging. Once all otoliths have been aged I get to work on my graph and statistical model which will tell us about the growth rate of the Sheepshead. Data analysis here I come see you in a week or so!
Thanks for reading!!
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Mid Program Update!

Hey y’all! I can’t believe it’s been a month already! Time flies when you’re doing data analysis I suppose!

Well that’s not entirely true. So far there’s been very little analyses being done in my lab. I’ve basically just been copy and pasting hundreds of chronologies from the International Tree Ring Data Bank’s text files into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet so we can actually start analyzing. I anticipated this part of the process would take two weeks or so, but I was so very wrong. It’s been taking a lot longer.

However, after all this grunt work we’ll hopefully have at least a few chronologies that match up with the arc pattern particularly well. We really ought to; between Dr. Black and me, there are over 1200 chronologies transferred to Excel so far. I’m really excited to start analyzing all this data. Dr. Black says we’re pretty good on time so far, so I guess I was just over ambitious. To date, I have transferred chronologies from twelve states along the western half of the United States and am now planning on moving on to transferring chronologies from Canada and Mexico so we may have a particularly robust analysis. Of course this isn’t without a little online shopping in between spreadsheets; I’m only human after all. But my work has been getting done pretty efficiently and we’re on the right track it seems!

The lab work is a little dull (but it’s all meaningful work!), but my free time has been quite pleasant here in Port Aransas. The other students here are super easy to get along with and we’ve been spending our weekends exploring Port A and Texas in general. We’ve gone to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, Six Flags in San Antonio, and of course the beach over the past month!

This past weekend has been one of my favorites so far; the REU students from Austin came down and we all went on the RV Katy and got a crash course in marine science techniques such as otter trawling, mud grabs, and plankton tows. I got to touch a lot of fish and we even caught a black fin shark! Being on the boat really reminded me the reason for my staying here in Port A; I just love the ocean and all its mysteries so much.

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‘De una Isla a Otra’ (From One Island to the Next)

¡Hola a todos! My name is Adriana Guzmán Domínguez (Yes, I have two last names) and I study in the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, where I am currently pursuing a degree in Coastal Marine Biology, with minors in Microbiology and Chemistry. I’ll be starting my fourth year this fall, but I’m not graduating yet, still have lots to learn! I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and although I am an islander, my love for the ocean actually sparked in the United States, even though I always loved the beaches in PR. I visited an aquarium, where I fell IN LOVE with marine creatures. I was around 6 years old, so this passion has been going strong for a lot of years. As the years passed, I kept learning of the many branches of science that the ocean can bring us, and so I am brought to a struggle as to define my next focus in my academic (graduate) career, but I know its rests with the oceans and anything I can do to conserve and protect them. I had been looking for new opportunities where I could submerge myself into as much marine science as I could get, so this experience will definitely be an exciting one full of learning and discovery.
I will be working in Dr. Deana Erdner’s lab, which focuses on phytoplankton, and studies its interactions with bacteria. We will be focusing on the phytoplankton-attached bacteria, to find out and understand who is there, why are they there, and what they’re doing. But to be able to analyze these organisms and their interactions, we must separate them from everything else that exists in seawater, and that’s where I come in. My experiment is to find an efficient way to separate phytoplankton, specifically diatoms and dinoflagellates from every other particulate in the water. Our idea is to separate them using density gradients, where each group of organisms would fall on different parts of these gradients.
This is the longest I’ve ever been away from Puerto Rico, and my first time being without family or friends around, so I’ve been adapting a little more slowly than everyone else, (I had a little cultural shock) and because English is not my native tongue, I get a bit lost in translation, but this makes it an ever greater learning experience. Port Aransas is nice, nothing like I thought Texas would be (but we are on an island) and everyone here, all of my roommates and those who work here has been super friendly (which was something I was nervous about) but I am starting to like it here.  I am excited to see where this experience will take me, as I know it’s going to be a journey filled with personal and academic growth, and some new experiences with new friends that I’ll remember forever. From one island to the next, there’s always a new story to tell.

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Is island life the best life? This islander says yes!

Hey everyone, My name is Kwame Forbes from St. Thomas USVI and I attend college at the University of the Virgin Islands. I am a third-year biology student who is interested in going to graduate school for marine science. Born and raised on an island, I have had the pleasure of being within walking distance to the beach all my life.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with a well published marine scientist like Dr. Fuiman this summer on the rearing of pigfish. Pigfish is a common baitfish found and used throughout the coastal waters of the southeastern United States. Their short time required to reach market size (3-4 months), and high consumer demand make them an excellent choice for aquaculture. The aim of the my study is to add to the knowledge of rearing larval pigfish by finding out which water condition(s) are most beneficial to their survival, growth, and digestive enzyme activity. Data generated from this study could lead to an increase in native stocks of pigfish by providing a year-round supply of pigfish which can increase fishing opportunities creating a larger income for the local fish industry.

Before this program I have never heard of aquaculture but being here I have learned a lot.  And who know maybe I can introduce it to my island.

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Phytoplankton are Cool, And not the Plankton form the Spongbob

Hi, my name’s Charles. I live in Jackson,MS, and I just completed my first year at Rice University.  I am  majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (this is one major and also a mouthful) with a possible minor in Environmental Studies.

I’m extremely excited to be here in Port Aransas as a part of the 2017 REU program. This summer I will be working in Dr. Erdner’s lab. My project this summer relates to algal microbiome, more specifically the relationship between phytoplankton and bacteria attached to them. In the ocean bacteria exist as free-living organisms and also as attached organisms. These attached bacteria can live connected detritus, or connected to other organisms such as phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton, commonly referred to as algae, are one of the major producers of the ocean. Although it is known that these organism live in close proximity, not much is known about their relationship and possible symbiosis. This summer I am going to try to bridge this gap in knowledge by analyzing sequence data from several algal communities and comparing this sequence data to physiological data from these cultures.

This my first time working with phytoplankton, so I am extremely anxious to get into the lab and start my work. I have done research before, in high school but it focused more on how the bacteria related to human health. My project also involves statistical analysis with software that I am not familiar with, so it will be interesting to learn it. I’m excited to get started on my project and I am looking forward to the rest of the summer at UT MSI.

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