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!




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!!

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.

‘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.

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.

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.

A Mid-Westerner Sweating in Texas for Science

Hey guys, my name is Ally Savoie and I am from Dayton, Ohio where I attend Wright State University. This upcoming fall I will be a senior and will be graduating in the spring (WOOH!). I major in Earth & Environmental Science with a concentration in Environmental Science, which basically means I prefer to study water and plants instead of rocks. I have always been in love with traveling and being around the water, which is a good thing because I work at a pool, swim for Wright State, and study nitrogen in different aquatic ecosystems in a lab back at Wright State. I really enjoy biology and chemistry and I feel that my project this summer combines those two subjects in perfect balance.

I’m very excited to be working with Dr. McClelland this summer on studying phytoplankton communities in the Aransas River’s tidal freshwater zone. We will be using three different methods to look at the communities in this zone including flow cytometry, size fractionation with chlorophyll and phycobiliproteins, and microscope examination. I will also be working on a small side project related to nitrogen uptake and regeneration. This is pretty exciting research because there hasn’t been a lot of studies done in this area or these zones so we’re not really sure what to expect yet.

So far the program has been a really awesome experience since I have never been to Texas or gotten to really work on my own research project. The other students have all been super helpful and supportive, which is a huge relief since I didn’t know how I would like living in a dorm around people all the time. Things have been pretty hectic from the start but on the plus side, I’ve already gotten a pretty rad tan.

Reconstructing Chronologies through Tree Ring Increments

Hey y’all! My name is Aileen Qin. I attend Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, but I am originally from Houston, Texas. I love Texas and the Gulf Coast with all my heart and I am so excited to be here in Port Aransas!

I will be working with Dr. Bryan Black on a project involving tree and geoduck chronologies and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. The PDO is kind of like the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in that they are both cyclic climatic fluctuations of sea surface temperature, pressure, and wind direction. These fluctuations have prodigious impacts on oceanic nutrient cycling, tropical cyclone occurrence, and weather conditions on land. This in turn affects fisheries, forest fire occurrence, tourism, vegetation growth, and safety for people in North America.

Though chronologies of the PDO have been recreated through tree increments, there is little agreement between the timelines on what the PDO may have looked like before the 1900s. The goal of Dr. Black’s lab for the next three years is to create a multi proxy timeline using geoduck chronologies and tree ring data so that patterns of the PDO may be studied further and the effects of current changes in climate can be seen. I will be helping by cleaning and running statistical analyses on tree ring data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. I will compare the chronologies to the 20-30 year pattern the PDO is on to see if/how the signal has changed over previous centuries according to the tree rings.

Admittedly, it was a little hard to get excited about the PDO initially, but after Dr. Black explained how important it was and how revolutionary the research we are doing is, I’m super excited to start working! I’m also kind of excited I don’t have to get my hands too dirty since I’m just going to be sorting through online databases. It’s definitely hard work, but it’s not messy. I’m a little bit of a princess (though I would be willing to get my hands dirty I promise!), so it’s a relief to be sitting in an air conditioned lab even if it means sorting through thousands of data sets. I can’t wait to see what I stumble upon!

Tracking Sheepshead Growth and Spawning in the Gulf of Mexico

Hey! My name is Samantha Vanderhoof, I mostly go by Sam and I am from New Jersey.  I’m an upcoming junior at Stockton University. I first attended community college for a year as a biology major but after one year transferred to Stockton to pursue a degree in Marine Biology. For the longest time, I thought I would go to college to be a teacher in math or science, but in seventh grade I became enthralled with the ocean. I always enjoyed going to the beach, but as I got older and learned of the dangers the marine organisms face due to our life styles I choice to become a marine biologist. After I graduate I hope to work in conservation and outreach to teach other people about the dangers of plastics and chemical runoff has on the animals and the water itself, and try to preserve the biodiversity in the ocean. The other REU students are super friendly its been great so far hanging out and getting to know everyone

I am super excited to have gotten accepted to this REU to conduct research on how age and growth correlate in Sheepshead fish here in the Gulf of Mexico at UTMSI. I will be working with Dr. Erisman and his lab team to determine the age of hundreds of sheepsheads by examining each individual’s fish’s otolith. An otolith is an ear bone that is in a little sac in the fish’s head. Like a tree trunk an otolith has rings that can be used to determine the age of the individual. To get an otolith, it needs to be extracted from the fish. Then it gets mounted on a wooden stick, and a cross section taken then placed under a microscope to view the rings. The length of all individuals is taken; all I need to do is put the right age with the right fish and length.

Not only will I be doing otolith analysis, I will also be assisting in determine what stage of reproduction the fish is in by looking at a section of its gonad. I have already read a few articles about studies similar to this one in different states, and can’t wait to get started in the lab.

Can’t wait to see how everyone’s research comes out, and the fun adventures that are ahead for all of us!!!

Oh I better make this title good. I want everyone to read my post.

Hello darkness, my old friend. But no, really, hello everyone.

My name is Andrea Reynolds. I am a biochemistry and biotechnology major at Minnesota State University Moorhead. By credits I was considered a senior last semester, but I will graduate next May and I am very excited about that. I am a non-traditional student and have been working on my degree since 2011 so it’s been a long time coming. I am originally from Sioux Falls, SD but currently reside in Fargo, ND for school. (Fargo-Moorhead is one big metropolis separated by a river. You’d never know you’re even crossing the state borders). And no, Fargo is nothing like the movie.

I’ve always been enamored by the ocean and coming from the Midwest I was not exposed to it as much as I wish I could’ve been growing up. There’s nothing quite like an ocean view. I chose to apply to this REU because it was near the ocean and they had mentors who dealt in organic chemistry, which I think we can all agree is life’s greatest joy. Lately I had been thinking of pursuing a graduate degree in biogeochemical processes and anyway  I can apply that to the water is a plus. So this summer I will be working with Dr. Zhanfei Liu in his lab where he works to understand organic biogeochemical processes.

From what I understand so far, my project will revolve around a polypeptide called trileucine. Before I got here, one of the grad students in my lab, Kaijun Lu, discovered that trileucine might exist naturally in seawater. It’s not actually definitive yet of the structural makeup of this trileucine compound; it could be actual leucine-leucine-leucine or it could be some isomer. The first part of my project is to compare the sample taken from seawater and compare it to a stock standard of trileucine using LC/MS. If it turns out that it does in fact exist naturally in seawater, the second part of my project will be to observe how fast the compound degrades.

I am excited to apply organic in a more biochemical way. Previously I have done research with organic compound synthesis, which is also very interesting but there’s not much biology involved. I’m excited to use new machines, learn new techniques and apply classroom knowledge to real life science research.





I’ve done more fun things here already in the past week than I have done living in Fargo for the past two years. But maybe that’s not hard to do when you live in Fargo. We went kayaking on the Laguna Madre (I think that’s what it was) last week which was amazing because I love kayaking. All of the fellow REUs here are awesome and we’ve been getting along well. I’m finally getting the dorm experience I always missed out on because I was a non-traditional student. I always thought I would hate it but it’s actually not too bad. But when you have ocean views outside of your dorm, how bad can life be? I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer! Stay tuned!