Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lab Work

I know what you're thinking, "did you really go to a tropical paradise to toil in the hot sun and crystal water, and labor up idyllic forested slopes? Don't you ever take a break for some refreshing lab work, replete with the soothing glare of fluorescent lights, the gentle clink of scientific glassware, and the warm radiance of sterile surfaces?" Of course we do, except for sterile part. We're field biologists, the chemistry is upstairs.

I've already mentioned some of the work we do in the lab for processing specimens. First comes the sorting. Since this is year three of the project we really want to focus on getting things that are new and interesting, so people pick through the mass samples (sand sample, leaf litter, etc.) and pull out the animals, which are handed off to an expert to determine what qualifies . Usually one uses a microscope for this, but some larger stuff can be seen with the naked eye. Allow John to demonstrate.

Even an expert IDer needs help every once in a while. For this purpose we have photo field guides that we have compiled over the past two years, comprised of photos of specimens we have already collected. This also help ensure that we are collecting new animals, and not something we have collected many times in the past.

You can see one of the guides open next to Charlotte's microscope. That might be another one in her lap. The experts can also help by IDing animals in the guide whose identity has remained a mystery to us.

The specimens are also photographed, especially those that will be subsampled and will no longer be intact. We have several set-ups for this, including two microscope systems, but the basic system that we used for marine animals is a clear aquarium we built elevated off a black background.

After photography most of the animals are subsampled for DNA extraction. For this, a little snippet of tissue is placed in a 96 well plate which goes into the DNA-extracting-robot. Here, Jenna and Gary are about to start loading the plate in Jenna's hands (Jenna not pictured).

There's also a lot of data entry, as all the information that goes with each specimen (photo, subsample, location, identification, habitat, etc.) must be recorded for the Biocode database as well as for cataloging back at the museum. The lab work is not glamorous, but when we discover something new and exciting it often happens here. Please enjoy this reenactment.

Now that our numbers have swelled to 12, I'll try and keep up with the posting. Science waits for no one!

:) Mandy


mhb said...

clearly you are overwhelmed with the glamor of science. Love to see you in the throws of science!
love, mom

Badger, Bob said...

Now I see it clearly...It's the glamour of science that's drawn you all in with her siren song.